Whatever debate there may be about the efficacy of content marketing for some B2C brands, publishing online has been an undoubted boon for B2B.
Now I wouldn't call myself an expert at writing blog posts, but I have written an awful lot of them aimed at a B2B audience. I therefore feel I can just about get away with writing a guide to... writing.
Here are 10 steps I go through when working on a blog post.
Note that this isn't a full guide to content marketing – it doesn't cover strategy, distribution, reporting or process. You can consult our own Econsultancy reports if you're a subscriber (Best Practice Guide to Content Strategy and a Best Practice Guide to B2B Content Marketing).
1. Pick a topic
If you are short of ideas and there isn't an obviously outstanding trend in your industry that your customers are fretting about (for us at the moment it's AI, GDPR, or the perennial favourite, customer experience) there are lots of ways to settle on a topic. You can:
- look at what your competitors are writing about
- write about your own company challenges, such as your own marketing campaigns or product development
- dig into Google Analytics to look at what content has proved successful in the past
- brainstorm with your team
- see what's popular on social media – Buzzsumo can help with that
- ask your users with a simple survey or poll
- re-purpose previously successful content
A Topic - recognisable to European chocolate lovers
2. Do your research
As far as I'm concerned, this is the most important part of writing – the part where you're not writing, only reading.
I search for reading material in a variety of ways – it's not rocket science and it generally involves Google. I often:
- do Twitter searches
- look back through my favourite email newsletters
- perform obligatory trawls through Google
- do specific 'site:' searches on Google to search one particularly relevant domain
- use Google Scholar searches where relevant
Of course, you want to make sure your sources are as recent and as authoritative as possible. Try to get back to the primary source wherever you can, whether it's a published survey (referenced in an article), a company report or a scientific paper. Until you look at the primary source, you may not know how robust it is (what was the methodology?) or if it has been misrepresented.
3. Find an angle
Through the course of your reading you should be refining what it is you're looking for. You might have a topic in mind (e.g. AI and marketing) without a specific angle. After some time you might decide to focus on one area (e.g. the difference between AI personalisation and more basic segmentation).
As you refine your search, you'll start to find out whether your angle is a feasible one – can you find enough information on the topic, does it suit your audience, and can you pitch it at the right level?
Don't be annoyed if your research comes to nothing or, on the other hand, if it turns out you may have too much information for just one blog post. That's all part and parcel of finding an angle.
4. Canvas opinion
This is an offshoot of the 'do your research' phase. You should be asking relevant figures for their thoughts, or garnering such quotes from other publications.
Opinion can come from within your own ranks, from your team or your customers. Quotes can be useful in assembling a straw man, backing up your argument, or simply in adding a bit of colour in a language the reader understands.
5. Create a structure
By now you should have lots of raw material. Some quotes, excerpts from other articles, visuals, your own opinions and digested ideas. Throw all this stuff into a document (you have probably been doing this as you research) and start to put it into an order that makes sense.
I tend to do lots of cutting and pasting of content, shifting it around, before I go through and write it up properly. There's nothing worse than just starting writing without thinking about which thoughts are going to go where – that would be like beginning your masterpiece in ink (unless you're Picasso, it simply isn't feasible).
As you go through this process, you'll get an idea of what might be missing from your argument or your article. Do you need extra case studies or some evidence to back up your assertions? Now is the time to get it.
As long as it stands up
6. Make it flow
This is the point where you go through and knit everything together. It's the proper job of writing and there are many things to consider, chiefly:
- have you eliminated all the bullshit? Here are some words to remove from your marketing copy, an article that's also relevant for aspiring bloggers. Oh and here are some other words notionally banned from the Econsultancy blog.
- does the formatting make the post easy to read? Some guidance.
- does your intro give enough away to keep readers interested?
- do you have a useful conclusion with 'takeaways' or findings?
7. Add some pictures
A simple instruction. If the article doesn't need charts, graphs etc. you still need to find a way to break up the text to avoid intimidating readers with a wall of text. Don't be scared of using memes or humorous images (unless the topic is particularly serious) – your reader will appreciate it.
8. Name your sources
A key point. All that research you did, make sure you reference it and include links. Not only is it good form but the reader may often want to crawl further down the rabbit hole by clicking through to your primary sources.
9. Add internal links
This isn't just about SEO and increasing link juice to some of your other pages. Where difficult concepts are discussed, you may need to provide your reader with recourse to some education or background reading – simply linking from technical terms to explainer content can be a big help for beginners.
A more disgusting illustration, I could not find. Via Flickr
10. Perfect the headline
You've written your blog post – what happens next will amaze you.
You just have to write your headline.
It's fairly obvious why this should be done last. Many forward-thinking publishers will optimise the headline after the article has gone live, looking for the best clickthrough rate in various channels. While this may be beyond your team in terms of time and tech, it's a good idea to run a few possible headlines past a colleague.
You need to get the balance right between piquing the reader's interest and not promising more than you can deliver. A simple tip is to write for Google (and the user) not for Facebook – i.e. what would the reader want to see in the search engine results when looking for content like yours?
This article from Buzzsumo analysing the most shared articles on LinkedIn will also come in handy when writing your headlines.
Then hit publish and log off
That's it for my simple guide to writing blog posts, particularly in B2B sectors. It might seem simple, but never assume your reader knows what they're doing (after all, the author barely does).
To brush up your own writing skills, book a place on Econsultancy’s online copywriting training course.