What’s the primary purpose of a B2B manufacturers blog? Is it traffic? Or better still sales leads? If those are your goals and you follow the standard blogging advice I suggest you will be disappointed.
Let’s assume you run a small to medium-sized B2B manufacturing operation. Your marketing people have been pushing hard for your commitment to invest in a blog. You recognise blogging is not free and there are significant costs involved. You have a decision to make.
The worst fluff content you can find on the subject will tell you ‘build it and they will come’ – what nonsense. If we make a list of the (supposed) benefits of a manufacturers blog and rank them in (alleged) priority order we get:
- Increased traffic to the business website.
- More visibility in the marketplace.
- More sales leads.
- Improved competitive position.
- Increased credibility.
- Keep existing customers engaged.
I argue that list is upside down. It will be a real struggle to achieve the top three organically unless your business happens to be the dominant force in the marketplace.
Some of the better quality advice on blogging in B2B markets suggests you identify your ideal customer and their information needs. Then you publish educational content that satisfies those needs and push it into the channels that your prospect engages with the most. It all makes sense….but
Benefits Of A B2B Manufacturers Blog – An Analysis
Let’s assume your business has a relatively new website built on solid technical foundations. Your marketing people write an insightful blog post. It takes a stand on an important issue relevant to your industry. It includes original research and graphics. The post runs to over 3000 words.
The post remains on topic and relevant to business keywords and their synonyms. Your B2B content writers work hard on structure and headings. They include relevant images and write powerful headings and meta descriptions. They link out to relevant and credible sources. In short, your marketing people follow all the (alleged) blogging best practices
They publish the post and leave it for a week or two to allow it to index and percolate through the search results. They run google analytics to view the impact on your organic results (negligible). They look at landing and exit pages (nothing). They know it’s a little early to expect anything but They look at incoming links (struck out again).
They run many relevant queries and view the SERPS. There is lots of content on the first few pages that are nowhere near as relevant or expansive as yours. They run multiple relevant queries and your business is consistently outranked. Why? What happened?
The problem is twofold. First, a failure to promote content but much more important your new business website has no authority. You can publish the best, relevant, in-depth, researched content but if your website has no authority you are unlikely to rank. What gives a website authority (as perceived by the search engines)? Many things, but the most important is relevant backlinks.
So, the problem then is promotion? If marketing had followed the (alleged) blog promotion best practices. If they had reached out to those you linked to then your website would have received a (small) number of links. Wrong again I am afraid. The purpose of the post was customer/prospect interaction, not link generation. There is a difference (see below).
Let’s look back at our list of alleged advantages of blogging. Has your blogging activity had any impact on visibility, traffic or sales leads? No, it has not.
You could point out that it no surprise. You may suggest after publishing several quality blog posts you will start to see results. If posts are customer-focused rather than link focused I disagree.
Now let’s assume your website has built up some authority over time. Now your blog content has a better chance to rank but remember this:
- You will always be outranked by the big brands and the major news outlets.
- If your market is highly competitive and/or your competitors were first to spot the opportunity and have a strong web presence you will find it difficult to rank for many of the queries you may wish to chase.
- Blog content is generally informational, not transactional
That said you may be able to secure a satisfactory amount of website traffic. So what conversion rate can you expect? It depends on what you count as a conversion. It depends on the purpose of each blog post and the method marketing use to keep visitors engaged and moving through your site. The statistics vary but here’s one extreme case.
As a rough guide, my own rule of thumb is on a small, B2B manufacturers blog between 1 and 2% of organic visitors should take some form of positive action. That action could be as basic as signing up for a download. It is not a lead.
Search Engine Optimisation
As discussed at length above without authority your blog post will not rank on the search engines when a prospect types in a relevant search phrase. If it does not rank it will attract little traffic.
Backlinks are a key component of authority (as perceived by the search engines). It is possible to argue all day long about exactly how important backlinks are in the authority mix. It is probable some backlinks are more important than others but ultimately backlinks matter.
There are many ways to build backlinks. For businesses in B2B markets their partners and suppliers are often an easy win but to consistently generate links requires content. A blog is one of the many potential sources of content available.
There are many types of blog post, the most common are:
- Answering questions.
- How to.
- News items.
- Case study.
- Thought leadership.
- Resource lists.
- Expert interview snippets.
If we assume your target is prospects and your aim is more traffic and/or leads. If we take the blog posts types outlined above and categorise each by its primary goal then:
- The purpose of listicles, expert interview snippets, reviews and infographics is links.
- How to, answer posts, resource list posts and news posts are targeted at traffic.
- The prime purpose of case studies and thought leadership posts is credibility.
Obviously, a post can have a primary and multiple secondary goals.
Blogs tend to be informational, not transactional. There are other key pages on your site where conversions happen – often referred to as money pages. The problem with money pages is they tend to be relatively short and to the point.
Their purpose is to encourage a prospect to take action. The keywords and phrases they use are, for obvious reasons, the same keywords and phrases competitors use. Therefore, they are by definition highly competitive.
It is difficult to build links to money pages (why would anyone link to those pages!). Without a blog, it will be difficult to raise the authority of your site. This explains a large number of listicles, review posts, expert interview snippet posts and infographic type posts on the web. Their primary purpose is not to generate traffic (although it is a nice added extra), it is not to inform or educate, it is to generate links.
Remember at the other end of every organic traffic link there is a real person. What were they looking for? Depending on the type of blog post (especially how to and answer types) they may take what they need and leave. Will they bookmark? Will they remember to come back? A very small percentage yes, but most probably not. Most answers and how-to posts are too simplistic and short for that.
A Review Of The Search Engine Results Pages (SERPS)
I tried to put myself in the position of a buyer of industrial items and came up with ten random queries*. I then analysed the page1 search results on Google and this is what I found.
Google has presented a range of results that best match the query. The majority are suppliers as the queries have predominantly transactional intent. News and PR sites are next and again it could be argued that matches the intent. It is interesting to note the small percentage of blog posts.
Accepted the above is a far from scientific process based on a small and very rough sample but it illustrates a point. Remember this, Google purpose is to return a selection of results in response to a query, not necessarily the best results.
Google intends to deliver a few best answers rather than provide many pages of great possibilities. They provide a mass use tool for the average surfer who wants to search and go rather than a research tool – Eric Ward from Ultimate guide to link building
Google does not care about ranking your web page correctly. This is not their objective. Their systems are designed around providing the best SET of results to users for a given search query. – Eric Enge From a forum discussion with Michael Martinez
The Real Purpose Of A Manufacturers Blog
So now we have dealt with the more traffic, more leads, more visibility claims let’s move on. I suggest the real reasons for blogging in B2B markets are:
- Keep existing customers engaged.
- Raising the profile of money pages – SEO
- Capturing prospect details and nurture
At this point, the discussion should develop to include content strategy and content marketing but I will try stay on topic
Can a blog help keep existing customers engaged? Can it raise the credibility of a business among existing customers? The answer to both those questions is a resounding yes.
Will a blog give a business a competitive advantage in existing customers? Again the answer is yes. Many of the blog types such as answering questions, how-to guides and case studies are ideal for existing customers. They may read them and leave but unlike prospects, there is a reasonable chance they will come back.
Existing customers don’t come across your business during a random web search as they know who you are. You already have a level of credibility. The customer may even have your website bookmarked.
If it is possible to take the next step and become perceived as a thought leader in the industry then that really will deliver a competitive advantage. Thought leadership drives return customer visits to a site.
Your blog gives you the opportunity to discuss topics that are important to your customers. It allows you to offer insights, that guide members of a decision-making team. Your blog can support the efforts of your KAMs and sales teams. If prospects happen to stumble across your blog that’s a nice bonus.
So do you make that investment in a blog? The answer depends on your objectives. The value may not be where you initially imagined it to be.
How does the above help our manufacturing business owner trying to decide to invest in a blog (or not)? If I am right, and the above is only an opinion based on personal experience, then they probably should proceed. However, I suggest they should focus on the needs of existing customers first. If there is a need for new customers then perhaps paid promotion should be part of the mix. The trick is deciding on that mix.
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