Studies in tech blogging success organic growth

A Prussian officer by the name of Helmuth von Moltke the Elder once famously said, “No battle plan survives first contact with the enemy.”  Roughly a century later, Mike Tyson would appropriate this sentiment to “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.”
Separated by 100 years and a language, these two fighting men have a point.  And that point extends well beyond fighting battles and, oh, say, into the realm of blogs about content marketing.

Rethinking the Hit Subscribe Blog Mission Starts With Talking About Success

We started this blog with the idea that it had a mission.  Specifically, we wanted to help techies with their blogs, which hews close to Hit Subscribe’s service offering of content for tech companies.  And that seemed like a reasonable plan. Or so we thought.
But we’ve learned a few things in the eight months or so between then and now:

  • Techies don’t appear to want to tune in regularly to a blog teaching them to blog.  Our hypothesis is that, rather than an ongoing subject of interest, this is something they’ll simply google.
  • When they go to Google, what they’re going to find is content put out by sites like Moz, who are the foremost experts in this space.  So when we blog about blogging, we’re competing with sites that specialize in outranking us.
  • Hit Subscribe doesn’t really need digital marketing.  In the first place, we’ve 5x-ed our monthly revenue over the last year without ever doing outreach.  And secondly, our service delivery is our inbound marketing—our work is all over the internet.

So building a traditional marketing funnel really doesn’t make any sense.  What does make sense is to make blog posts that our prospective buyers would want to see when evaluating us.
In that vein, let’s look at what blogging success looks like.  Why write your own posts, or, better yet, pay us to write them for you?  Does generating all of this content actually work?

The Exponential Organic Search Graph

I’m going to show you an image that I find beautiful.  If you could smell an image through a blog post, this one would smell like success.  I mean, also, if success had a smell.  But seriously, take a look at this graph.

It holds level for about a year and then starts to follow an exponential growth pattern.
That graph is showing the organic search traffic, month over month, for a client.  The knee point occurred when we took over the topic and keyword planning and made a deliberate effort to bring in more searchers.  Month over month, the numbers keep improving. That’s why we enjoy the graph so much—a win for everyone.
So what are the keys here?  What does Hit Subscribe do that creates results like this?  Well, let’s take a look.

1.  Have a Deep Understanding of Personas in the Industry

I’ll start with one of the unique value propositions that Hit Subscribe brings to bear when helping tech companies.  I am one of the founders of the business, and when we started, I wrote all of the posts for all of our clients.  I also happen to have occupied just about every role in the software development world: developer, architect, manager, executive, contractor, consultant, etc.
So from day one, we could speak to any potential buyer in the IT organization because we could empathize with all of them.
That’s only becoming more true.  We have 15 authors and counting, and they bring a similar, eclectic set of collective experiences to bear.  We know your audience and your buyers because we are your audience and your buyers.  So of course we know what they’re searching for and how.

2. Make Sure the Posts Answer Searcher Questions

Knowing what your prospective buyers and readers are searching for is important.  But in a sense, it’s only half the battle.
You also have to understand the other side of that equation.  Once they search and land on the page you’re building, you need to understand how to scratch their itch.  And this isn’t necessarily as simple as it sounds.
For instance, let’s say that you figure out that people are searching for “agile methodologies” and you decide that you want to rank for this.  (It’s actually a pretty good keyword, so go for it!)  You probably wouldn’t want to write a post called “Agile Methodologies are Dead.”
Why not, you ask?  Well, such a post would probably get eyeballs in general, especially when folks tweeted it out or started swearing at each other when debating it on Reddit.  But think about someone typing “agile methodologies” into Google.  They’re not looking for your contrarian hot take—they’re probably trying to figure out whether to implement XP or Scrum or something.
Even if you optimize a post for a keyword, you’ll get booted out of the rankings if you’re not answering the searcher’s implied question.

3.  Turn the Question and Answer Into a Plan

Once you know what searchers want and how you can serve them, you’re still not quite done.  All you’ve got so far is a question and an answer.  You still need a solid plan for the post, and you need to repeat that for the posts you’re going to write, week in and week out.
Keep a running list of the posts you’re going to write.  Along with those posts, keep track of the keywords—the question and answer part.  And finally, have an actual mission for the post.
When searchers arrive, you’re hopefully doing a good job answering their questions.  But then what?  Hopefully it’s not “read through the post and close.”  Do you have links to other posts in your text to let them keep clicking around your site?  A call to action to sign up for your mailing list?  A link to your trial download page?  You need to direct that traffic somewhere.

4.  Write Compelling, Digestible Content

But you also don’t want to be overly sales-y or aggressive.  Have you ever googled something like “IllegalArgumentException” and found yourself accidentally on some kind of sales page?  What do you do when that happens?  You immediately hit the back button—you didn’t come here to buy something.
So don’t do that to searchers visiting your site.
Write good, compelling content that answers your question.  Make it detailed.  Make it entertaining.  And above all, make sure it creates an excellent experience for them,
Google picks up on all kinds of signals about your content.  Do searchers stay a while?  Read all the way through?  Click back quickly?  You want to send every possible indication that when people arrive at your site, they’re finding what they want.  When you do this, Google gives your articles a boost in the rankings, which means a boost to your organic traffic.

5.  Have an Eye Toward Attracting Links and Building Domain Authority

The last thing I’ll mention is one that’s both a little indirect and also of paramount importance.  You really, really want to get as many outside sites as possible to link to yours.  This is the primary driver for what Moz calls domain authority, which is essentially an indicator of how much Google trusts your site and how likely it is to rank you for an arbitrary keyword.
Inbound links are king for this.  The more people that link to your site, the stronger the signal Google receives that you’re trustworthy and deserving of good rankings.
Some people try to write posts that serve as honeypots for inbound links.  Put a compelling infographic in there, for instance, and lots of people will link to it.
If you can pull that off, great.  But we found that with time and with writing good content, it tends to happen naturally.  Still, enlisting someone to socialize your posts with sites that might link to them certainly never hurts.  (Building links could easily make for its own entire post)

There’s No Magic—Time and Effort Pay Off

I’ll close by circling back to my software development roots.  Spending most of my life programming, I like objective, measurable criteria.  I also practice test-driven development when I write code, meaning I have a strong preference for tight feedback loops and immediate results.
This content marketing stuff therefore drives me nuts.
Trying to rank in Google is the opposite of clear, objective feedback in a tight loop.  You write some stuff, and the great, opaque Wizard of Oz magics up some ranking for you that you can’t fully understand. (Google does not disclose its ranking algorithm.)  It takes weeks or months to see where you’re going to end up, and it never permanently settles.
Still, I’ve come to understand that it’s a long play.  These sorts of results don’t happen after one post or even after ten.  You can’t count on any given post, either.  Some you think will do great at ranking flop, and some that you don’t have a lot of hope for sail to the top.
All you can really do is keep showing up, producing content, and executing a plan, and your organic traffic will grow.
Or better yet, give us a call, and let us do it for you.