Although blogging is a relatively new medium for corporate communication, certain misinformed, but commonly-accepted beliefs have had enough time to take root and spread almost as quickly as the business adoption of social media itself. What has been largely missing from conversations about audiences, design and content in general is reliable data. Without it, we’re relying on mere hunches to inform decisions that can greatly affect our online brand. Let’s destroy three persistent corporate blogging myths with good, solid data and see what happens.
Myth one: Write to your current customers and existing readership.
This is a big one, and it’s part of a lack of understanding about audiences that has led to the ultimate failure of many blogs.
The thinking: “Our blog is there to provide updates about our company and products to those interested enough to visit and/or subscribe. Our content is thus crafted to influence these people to buy more of, or look more closely at, what we do.”
The reality: You’re writing to an audience that hardly exists, and ignoring the needs of most of your visitors.
The data: A landmark survey by Compendium Blogware found that “almost two-thirds of [company blogs] reported more than 80 percent of all blog traffic was first time visitors.” Subscribers certainly aren’t first time visitors. Your current customers are unlikely to be first time visitors, either. Your blog traffic is arriving from search engines and referring sites.
Our analytics research pegs new traffic to our blog at 61% of all visits, which doesn’t surprise us. Interestingly, 87% of our visitors prefer content involving “thought leadership”, “strategy and guides” and “interviews”, while the remaining 13% want “info on our products and services” and “updates about Bazaarvoice”.
Corporate blogging is an uphill battle in the first place. Forrester reports that, “only 16% of online consumers who read corporate blogs say they trust them.” Josh Bernoff of Forrester explains that, “blogs exclusively about companies and products are what I think generate these low trust ratings.” In other words, consumers are wary of corporate blogs because they usually read like advertisements and have little applicability to their lives, needs, or questions. And if you’re writing to your current customers exclusively, you’re missing the opportunity to help the other 87% of visitors with much of anything.
The takeaway: Your content should be crafted to appeal to an audience of first-time visitors. It is not a clearinghouse of press releases and product documentation, a forum for self-congratulation or upsells. Focus on solving problems for visitors and bringing interesting perspectives from your company’s area of expertise.
Use the stranger test: Is this story interesting to someone who doesn’t know us? If yes, keep going. If no, rethink before posting.
Myth two: Keep it short.
Does size matter in blogging? Despite scores of analyses of length of post vs. popularity and/or engagement, the myth persists that shorter is always better. It’s not.
The thinking: “The modern attention span is growing shorter and shorter, while our amount of free time is shrinking, and our purchase decisions are being made more quickly. We should give our blog visitors what they want, posts that are short and sweet.”
The reality: No one is arguing for long-windedness, but you don’t need to sacrifice completeness to satisfy your readers.
The data: An eye-tracking study of online vs. offline news content found that readers complete an average of 77% of an online story vs. an average of 59.5% completion of an offline story. Online stories were more far more likely to be read “from start to finish” than offline equivalents.
ViperChill has an interesting analysis of “the most linked to blog posts on four of the most popular blogs in the world,” and found that they averaged 1,610 words in length—well beyond what is commonly understood to be ideal length. Similarly surprising data showed that the average length of the “most tweeted blog posts ever” is 1,118 words.
The takeaway: There will always be fat to trim from bloated posts, but don’t throw out the meat just to keep it short. If you’re addressing a topic that requires a bit more exploration, don’t be afraid to publish completed thoughts. Visitors will read and spread the stuff that helps them, even if it’s longer.
Myth three: Above the fold—or else.
Many blogs try to jam as much content “above the fold” (the area a visitor can view without scrolling down) as possible, because they believe that content “below the fold” remains unread. To do this, they’ll only include shortened or preview content on the front page with links to full posts—an ineffective practice based on bad data.
The thinking: “If visitors don’t see what they want in the first X seconds, they’ll leave without scrolling down. Therefore, we’ll play a numbers game with our posts, putting as many of them as possible in front of the visitor all at once, hoping that something will appeal to them and get them to dig deeper.”
The reality: Forcing everything up above the fold will only lead to ugly pages and a lack of deep exploration.
The data: As far back as 2006, studies were finding that 76% of pages “were scrolled to some extent”. In fact, a major study on the subject found that uncluttering the top of your pages leads to increased exploration below.
The takeaway: Visitors scroll down, so don’t be afraid to put good content down there.
Business use of social media is maturing, but it’s still a new chapter in marketing. With any “best practices” (even from us!) don’t forget the most important question – “Where is the data?”