A short history of the company blog
2010 saw the emergence of content marketing, and with it, the rise of the company blog. Faced with a new marketing opportunity, and suggestions that Google preferred sites with fresh content, production began in earnest.
With all of this new content needing somewhere to live, companies decided that the quickest and easiest way was to add a blog to their website. Under pressure to fill this new space, blog posts were pumped out about anything and everything. And yes, we at Rock Kitchen Harris fall into this trap too.
But a company blog is a fundamentally flawed concept, not sought out by users and where content is left to gather dust. So, if users aren’t seeking out your blog and content is going unread, why do we persist with this approach?
It’s time to kill the company blog and rethink our approach to content marketing.
Why it’s time to ditch the company blog
Advocating to kill off the company blog may seem like a radical step. But, it’s important to understand that this doesn’t mean you should stop utilising content marketing as part of your marketing mix. In fact, I’m advocating the exact opposite.
With 55% of marketers saying blog content creation is their top inbound marketing priority (HubSpot, 2018), content marketing is here to stay. And if that’s the case, we need to find ways to achieve more success with our content, not simply focus on producing more of it.
So why is a blog not the right platform for success?
The typical blog structure is terrible from a UX perspective
A typical blog is a list of posts in reverse chronological order, newest to oldest. WordPress, on which so many websites are built uses this as its default setup, as do many other content management systems.
But this linear style isn’t how users consume content. They want answers to specific needs, not an endless list of post after post of mixed subject content.
Even with tagging or categorising content, the browsing and discovery experience of your typical blog is very poor. The emphasis is on the user to wade through reams of posts to find what they need, rather than on the site to deliver the user the content in a helpful manner.
A linear blog discourages browsing
The reverse chronological structure discourages browsing. No one, and I mean no one, is going to browse your blog chronologically for more than a page or two.
Users may try and browse using tags or categories if they have been set up, but these are often poorly implemented. Without a properly defined and managed taxonomy, it’s easy for tags and categories to spiral out of control. And when this happens it does nothing to help link content of a similar topic or theme together.
When confronted with the overwhelming browsing options below, you are actively discouraging users from seeking out the content they need.
Chronological encourages the publishing of low-quality content
When content is organised in reverse date order, there’s a natural urge to post new content so that there’s something recent at the top. The issue here is the temptation to veer towards “something is better than nothing”.
There can be a desperation to appear to be doing something (anything!) and this can supersede the need to be doing something worthwhile and of value. This causes the quality of content to drop off.
Low value, repetitive and trivial content is published in order to satisfy the schedule and need to “keep the blog fresh”. If it’s delivering no value for users, or the business, the content may be fresh but it’s probably not worth the time that was spent creating it.
The typical blog obscures quality content
The structure of a blog means each post typically has a very short visibility lifetime before it drops off the opening page. Once gone from that opening page, it is highly unlikely it’ll be seen again.
That high-quality piece of content you created last year is now languishing down on page fourteen of your blog, hidden from all but the most determined user. And as the months tick by, it’s getting buried deeper and deeper. Sure, it may be found through search engines pulling people to the site, but users entering the site through other channels or pages are simply never going to see it.
Now the time and investment that’s gone into creating this post is gradually lost the further it drops down the blog list.
The blog has become a content dump
As the primary, and sometimes the only repository for supporting content on a website, a blog has a tendency to become the catch-all for any and all content.
That high-quality thought leadership piece? Add it to the blog. Announcing you’re attending an event? Add it to the blog. Someone got a promotion, an important product announcement, company Christmas message, an industry whitepaper? Just add them all to the blog.
How can we ensure the right information is being found by the right users when the content is as mixed and diverse as most company blogs tend to be? All content is not created equal, and not all content is relevant to every user, so we shouldn’t be housing it all in the same place.
What we should do instead?
It’s time we started to appreciate that the content assets we create have different purposes. It’s easy to label them all as content, but we need to appreciate that there are many different types. Content with different purposes needs to be produced, promoted and housed differently to maximise its potential.
#1 Restructure to build content hubs
Ditch the linear structure and instead of building a list, look at building content hubs for your users. We’re already seeing brands adopt this approach by separating user-centric content from softer news-style content. This separation gives users clearer guidance on where they need to go to get the information they need.
Chartered Accountants, Haines and Watts, are a great example of a company that has adopted this approach. They focus on producing high value, evergreen supporting content that helps users navigate to the information they need. This structure is far more user-friendly, keeps content visible to users and allows them to browse by their need, rather than a tag or category system.
Not only have they built this hub of supporting content, but they also maintain blog, news and resource hubs too. Once again, given the style, focus and audience will likely be different for these different styles of content, each has been given its own section on the site.
Online retailer Wiggle is another site that has adopted this approach. Whilst maintaining a blog for their softer content, they’ve developed a library of guides that are segmented from the blog-style content on a subdomain.
Content is organised with the user in mind, clearly dividing each guide by activity type and then subdividing it into buying, how-to and training guides. Pieces are still date stamped but featured guides are placed front and centre. It’s easy to find, easy to browse and helps users overcome those last-minute barriers to completing a purchase.
#2 Put the user first
Too often content is focused on what a business wants to say, rather than what its audience needs. Separating the “we want to tell you this” content from the user-centric content your audience actually needs is a good starting point. With this clear separation, it’s easier to focus on the audience and their needs, whilst also having a different outlet for other styles of content.
Again, Haines and Watts, have done a great job of putting themselves in the position of their users. Not only have they understood their users motivations, but they also cleverly make use of banners across the site to draw further attention to their supporting content hubs. The focus is on the user and their needs with well crafted user-centric calls to action based on common audience profiles.
Another retailer who understands the content needs of their audience is AO.com. Being responsive to the needs of their users has allowed them to pioneer a change in the way e-commerce category pages are designed. They’ve eliminated the traditional list of products you’d normally see on a category page and instead, use these prime pages to assist users in the buying journey.
Each product category has its own content hub, populated with guides and resources that help users in their buying journey. This allows AO.com to eliminate the barriers that may prevent customers from making a purchase.
#3 Serve content where and when users need it
AO.com have clearly thought about their users and determined that it’s likely they will need the information and assurance a buying guide can offer early on in their journey. By featuring their guides prominently on the category page, they are supporting users before they even begin to browse products.
Buying a replacement door handle may seem like a simple purchase, but they’ve recognised it’s not something people do very often. This means people can find it hard to do with confidence, without this supporting content to hand. By putting all the guides into a single hub, it makes it easy to browse other associated information for those looking to purchase a number of items.
#4 Focus on quality over quantity
Over time, and by its very nature, the traditional blog becomes a bloated mess of mixed content that varies greatly in quality, relevance and value. By developing content hubs that focus on user needs, you can focus on developing higher value, evergreen content assets for them.
Adopting a mindset of doing less, but better, is far easier when there isn’t the pressure to keep publishing something new every week. This needs to be the approach for content success.
It’s also vital to ensure content in these hubs is maintained and kept up to date. Regular content audits are a key element of content marketing, but all too often we forget about what we already have and focus solely on what’s to come.
Users are not revisiting your company blog on a daily or weekly basis, so there’s no need to feel pressured into having something new. Build your content strategy around producing quality, and not quantity.
Blogs are simply not compatible with modern content marketing. The poor user experience is reason enough alone to rethink our approach. After all, our content should be there to serve users, and if the blog is not working for them, the value we as businesses get from the content we produce is severely diminished.
News and softer content has its place, but it shouldn’t be the same place as the content users really value. Consideration needs to be given to the balance of time and investment spent on this type of content, versus the content that actually has business value for you.
Developing theme-based content hubs that deliver the content our users need has to be the way we approach content going forward. This starts with really knowing your audience and putting them at the heart of your content marketing strategy. By understanding their needs and motivations, we’re able to produce better quality content to help them in their journey.
But it is not just informational needs we can build content hubs for. We can build content hubs to support marketing campaigns, seasonal events or any other activity. Serving users needs within a dedicated section on the site and raising the visibility of the hub across the site as and when required.
There’s a reason libraries don’t organise books by the date they were published and instead organise them into common themes and topics, with each given their own section. Build a library, not a list for your users.
Types of content hubs - https://www.contentharmony.com/blog/content-hubs
Blog set up incorrectly - https://www.siegemedia.com/seo/blog-setup-incorrectly
Library vs Publication - https://www.animalz.co/blog/library-vs-publication/