If you’ve been think about creating a blog and aren’t sure where to start, Leslie Samuel can teach you how to become a blogger and create content that inspires others and keeps your audience coming back.
It’s vital to first know who your audience is and what type of content they want. Once you have that solid foundation, you can begin to craft content that caters to them, their needs, and better understand how lengthy or frequently they want to see that from you. It’s all about nurturing the relationships that you’re building.
Rich: He’s the creator of Become A Blogger, and the host of Blogging With Leslie Podcast, where he teaches the craft of professional blogging. Changing the world one blog at a time is a mission he constantly strives for. As a former university professor, he has a passion for education. He founded, and later sold, Interactive Biology, a blog dedicated to making Biology fun for students and teachers worldwide.
As the head of training at the Social Media Marketing Society, he helps to ensure that social media marketers get the training they need to stay on the leading edge of social media. I’m excited to have on the podcast for the first time Leslie Samuel. Leslie, welcome to the podcast.
Leslie: Well I’m excited to be here. I think we’ll have a great discussion.
Rich: Excellent. You are full of energy, my friend.
Leslie: I try, you know. If you have a choice between having energy and not having energy, you might as well go all in the energy.
Rich: Absolutely. So blogging is one of those topics that seems to go in and out of fashion if you’ve been doing it as long as we have. The number of articles called “Blogging is Dead,” is probably infinite at this point. I’m guessing you disagree. Why is blogging still relevant in the age of social media?
Leslie: That is such a great question. You know when I think about social media – I love social media for its pros and its cons – but what I always have in the back of my mind is, while Facebook is exciting and all that stuff, I really don’t own Facebook. I don’t have full control of the platform, and quite frankly as we’ve seen a number of times, they can make some simple tweaks that can have a significant impact on our businesses.
So the way I look at it is if I’m building a business, if I’m building a brand, if I’m building a company, I want to make sure that I have enough control over my assets. And while I don’t have as much control of my Facebook profile, my Instagram profile, my Twitter profile, and all that stuff, and what my followers and those platforms see, I have control of what I do on my blog. So I kind of look at a blog as kind of my home base. This is where I send people to my home on the internet, it is where you’re going to get my best content, it’s where you’re going to get access to my resources.
And I think as a business owner in 2019 we need to be thinking about how can I create my own platform, one that I own, one that I control, one that I can use to have that impact and grow my business. That’s the way I look at it.
Rich: I completely agree. And years ago my friend Denise Wakeman said, “It is the home for your intellectual property”, and that was way before all these social media platforms really started to take effect. But it’s absolutely true that this is a place that you really do have much more control over than you do on a place like Facebook or LinkedIn.
Leslie: That’s exactly it. I don’t want Mark Zuckerberg to be in charge of what happens in my business. And while his platforms can influence it and can affect it positively or negatively when it comes to the main assets that I create. I want to create them in something I have more control over.
Rich: Ok, so you’ve talked about that you’re focused on building funnels using your blog. What does that look like?
Leslie: So when I think about blogging, you can think about blogging from a personal aspect, I’m just blogging to share what I’m doing in my life and with my health and fitness or whatever the case might be. But then there’s the other aspect where you’re blogging as a business.
If you’re blogging as a business you need to have a few things. You need to have a steady stream of customers, obviously, but in order to have this steady stream of customers you need to have a steady stream of leads. So I look at it from a point of, how can I create content and get it out there in a way that I have people that are constantly engaging with that content, and then take them through a funnel.
And the way I look at a funnel, it’s basically a journey. How can I take them on a journey from just a casual lurker all the way down to a customer, and even better a repeat customer. So for me that looks like having a great free lead magnet, a free gift that they can opt in for after consuming my content. And then nurturing that relationship via email, and we can dig in more to how that’s done.
But I want to nurture that relationship via email so that they can keep coming back for more valuable content. I think keeping in touch with them, and when I have products or services to sell – which I always do – I can introduce them to those products and those services and take them on that customer journey.
For me it’s all about how do you funnel that actual lurker all the way down to that repeat customer.
Rich: So let’s talk just for a minute about that next step. So you’ve got some sort of lead magnet, something that’s only available to people once they’ve given you their email address. And depending on your business it really could be anything. When you start following up and building that relationship with your prospect via email, what kind of content are you sending them? Are you just alerting them to new blog posts, are you alerting them to old blog posts that might be relevant, how much of it is automated, and is any of it you just taking the lead and sending out an email specifically one-on-one to that person?
Leslie: Ok, there’s so much in that.
Rich: There are only 17 questions there.
Leslie: Of course. No, there’s so much in there to unpack. And the answer to that question is, it all depends. It all depends on what they signed up for. It depends on what they struggle with, what they’re trying to accomplish. I have different sequences for different purposes.
So let me give you an example. I created a course called, From Idea to Blog, it’s how do you go from that idea in your mind all the way to having a successful blogging business. It’s kind of painting that picture for you and then giving you step by step on how to set up the blog and set a foundation for what you’re going to be accomplishing. So when someone signs up for that course, I give them access to my video training.
So it’s going to be a series of videos, I send it all to them. But then after that I take them through kind of like an educational journey where they’re going to get emails from me in an automated way, that’s going to be helping them get their blog going, helping them understand and take action on how do you drive traffic to your blog, and how do you make your blog better, how do you build a blogging business. I’m basically taking them through an educational process.
Now the idea is, if I am providing them with all of this value – even though it’s automated – I am providing them with all of this value, when I do introduce them to my more premium/paid program, a certain percentage of them are going to get interested in it. So I take them through an automated sequence.
Now at some point in that sequence I ask them to kind of self-identify. Because if you’re a beginner blogger and you don’t even know how to install WordPress and you’re trying to get things going, you’re interested in something way differ net than if you’re more advanced.
And if you have this blogging business that’s making money but now you want to optimize, so I actually send them an email where I ask them where are you in your blogging journey. And depending on how they respond to that, depending on what they click on to indicate where they are, I will then take them through another journey. So it’s kind of this automated sequences where depending on where they are in the process, I have a set of tailored emails to go out to them.
In addition to that – because you asked all of those questions – I do even have a follow-up way where I invite certain people if they don’t take a certain action, to schedule a call with me and we will actually hop on a call and have a conversation about where they are and what they’re trying to accomplish. So there are a number of layer to this whole funnel.
Rich: So I feel like we’re getting further away from my original line of questioning, but I’m fascinated and I want to just ask at least one more question on this. So, what platform are you using to kind of map this all out and automate it?
Leslie: So I’m using Drip. Now there are a number of platforms out there that allow me to do this kind of marketing automation. But about a year and a half ago I switched over to Drip, and I love Drip. And to even dive into this process more, I created a set of tutorials on Drip explaining to people how to use Drip, and when they sing up for that, once again, I have a funnel designed or I’m creating a funnel design, to get them signed up with Drip and then use my affiliate link. So it’s kind of interesting how these funnels can all work together.
Rich: Absolutely. And is Drip owned by somebody else?
Leslie: Owned by the company LeadPages.
Rich: LeadPages, that’s what I thought. Ok, cool.
Leslie: They bought it a while back and now it’s LeadPages and Drip.
Rich: Excellent. Now, so getting back to the blogging side of things. If you’re a small business owner or marketer, maybe you’re just getting started with a blog or maybe you’re trying to resurrect the defunct blog that kind of went off the rails a while ago, what are some of the first steps we should take?
Leslie: Very good question. So you want to kind of get back into this, you want to revive your blog. The first thing I would do, well let me tell you what a lot of people do, they ask a question, what am I trying to sell?, and then how can I create the content to sell the thing that I want to sell. And that is not the approach you want to take.
Instead, I would like you to take the approach of answering the question of, what is my ideal customer looking for, what struggles are they dealing with, what are their goals, what are they trying to accomplish. And kind of paint a very clear picture of who that person is and what they want.
Then from there you can start determining what kind of content to give them, what they want to help them overcome those struggles, help them to accomplish the goals that they have for themselves.
How about this, how about we go through an example of a particular kind of business owner. Is there anything that comes to the top of your mind when I think what’s a good business owner?
Rich: This is very selfish, but to be honest I have been slacking in the blogging. I’m doing great on podcasting, but I’m actually sitting down with my team later today to kind of decide which blog posts from the past we want to clean up and where are our knowledge gaps where we don’t have a lot of podcasts on things that we’re doing. So can we use a digital agency today as an example?
Leslie: Ok, so a digital agency. What kind of customers are you looking for, what kind of clients are you looking for?
Rich: So we tend to get a lot of small to medium sized business, they tend to come from the northeast, but we’re not industry specific, which is a little bit of a challenge. We can’t write about only how to grow your plastic surgery business through digital marketing, or something like that.
Leslie: Ok, so are these primarily people that run physical businesses?
Rich: I work primarily with real businesses – and there’s nothing wrong with doing internet business – but we tend to have people who they’ve got a physical location and they’re using the internet to grow their business, it’s not solely about the internet.
Leslie: Ok, so when you’re trying to target that kind of person, that’s the kind of person in many cases who wants to do all this digital marketing stuff but they don’t necessarily have the time or the team or the know how to get it all done. So they have some really basic questions in their mind; how do I get exposure on Facebook for my xyz type of business, what kind of content should I be creating for my plastic surgery business, what kind of resources should I create so that I can market my business on the internet.
These are the kinds of things they are looking for. And what you can do then is create that kind of content, not necessarily only showing them how to do it themselves, but also showing how we can look like it someone was doing that for them. So I can see creating interesting case studies of how different businesses were able to transform their real in person business by exploring some simple things that you can do on the internet. Those are some of the types of things I would be looking at. So it’s what are they looking for, what are they struggling with, and how do you create that kind of content.
So what I do is answer those kinds of questions, get really clear on who that person is, and then just kind of map out these and take them on that journey with content that you’re creating. That’s where I would start.
Rich: This is really interesting, I like this. So whatever the topic is, what you’re saying is you’re almost creating a beginner, intermediate, advances pathway or journey for them. Am I right on that side of things?
Leslie: That’s exactly it. I think what a lot of people do is they decide I’m just going to start creating all this content, but there’s no logical flow to it. If you can create that logical flow, there are a few things that you accomplish right there.
Number one, you’re creating the kind of content that they are looking for. But then, when they land on that piece of content, that one specific thing they were looking for on how to use Facebook ads to get customer to walk in the door. What it then does is that piece of content sells them on the next piece of content because it’s kind of all linked. So they can go from one to the next and they continue on this journey. Now they’re getting so much value from you they want to know more. And now you have this amazing free lead magnet that they can sign up and it’s going to help them on that journey even more. And then from there you are nurturing that relationship and sending them more valuable content. And of course now that they know they can trust you because you’re sending them good stuff, they’re more likely to do business with you.
Rich: That definitely makes a lot of sense. I guess my question to you – and this may be a personal thing – how much keyword research do you do, or do you do with your clients, when you’re writing that kind of content? Because I know for me, I was originally an SEO guy before I really did social media, so doing that kind of keyword research is important to me. But is this part of the process in your funnels?
Leslie: It is sometimes. Now let me explain to you what I mean by that. Depending on what I’m because doing, I do some really in depth keyword research. Now depending on what I’m doing, I may not do any keyword research because I have a really good intuitive grasp on who my audience is in certain ways.
I’ll give you an example. I had a biology blog, and the goal for that biology blog was to grow an audience of people that are passionate about biology that are learning from me. I was a biology teacher and then a professor, so I had a very good understanding of what my ideal customer was struggling with. And because of my limited time quite honestly, because it was a blog I was building on the side, I didn’t do a ton of research.
Now could I have benefitted from that research? Yes, I could have. But I didn’t because I kind of had an intuitive grasp and I created the kind of content that I knew they were looking for. And as a result of that I was able to grow that to where I’m getting over 100,000 visitors a month with limited keyword research.
Now that being said, I will say that when I did do the keyword research for the content I created, that content rose to the top much quicker. Because now you have data to back up what you intuitively think your audience is searching for.
So I kind of go in between, depending on what I’m doing I do keyword research. I just did a very in depth tutorial series that I launched a few weeks ago, and for that I went all in on the keyword research because I really wanted to make sure that I am creating the kind of content my audience is looking for. And especially in my space right now, it is very competitive, so that keyword research process can be very beneficial.
Rich: Ok. So we’ve already kind of talked about one way to drive traffic to your website, which is Google. So if that’s important for you, obviously the keyword research becomes really critical. But I’m sure that’s not the only way you built an audience, especially from the biology standpoint for the biology blog, that wasn’t how you did it. So what are some other ways that you are finding are good ways to build an audience for your blog, or for anybody’s blog?
Leslie: So there are a few other things you can do. Obviously there’s social media, and it’s not as easy as it was in the past, the algorithm isn’t favoring shared content as well as it was in times past. But it’s still a valid way of getting exposure.
For me I also focus heavily on connecting with others. So whether that’s attending in person events and networking with other people that are in the space, and kind of doing some collaborations, that has been very significant for me. I know with my biology blog the thing that really got it going was I was able to connect with another biology blogger that had a significant audience, and I created the kind of content that I knew her audience would like. And then I started to connect with her, and when she started linking to my content I started getting significantly more traffic than ever before.
So for me it’s been a combination of search engine traffic, which still even our biology blog has been the #1 driver of traffic even today, but then using social media websites. For me a big one was YouTube. And on YouTube – once again – it was all about the search engines and a few other factors, and then connecting with others that are working on building an audience, and then leveraging their audiences to grow mine as well.
Rich: Those are some great ideas. When you have a new blog post for one of your blogs you’re currently running, do you have a specific promotion strategy that you roll out for each new post?
Leslie: Yes I do. So there are a few things that I do. When I create my content, as soon as I finish creating the actual content/article/podcast episode, I will then and there write out a series of social media updates, some tweets, some status updates, and I will pull out some quotes.
Right then and there I pass that on to my VA and she will go ahead and create some images that I can use for promotion on social media, and some images for my blog post, and an infographic, and then we’ll schedule them on the different social media platforms at different timed intervals – depending on the platform – and we’ll try to optimize each update for the platform that you are sharing it on.
And there’s kind of a schedule that we have in terms of, over the first week we’ll post on the platform that works, and you’re going to repeat it over a certain amount of time. So that’s kind of initial thing that we do. In addition to that of course, I focus heavily on building my email list, so I will send that to my email list as well. Those are the main things that I do for each piece of content.
Rich: So a lot of people get hung up on comments for their blog. In your opinion, how important are comments to a blog if blogging isn’t the main revenue source?
Leslie: That’s a good question. It’s one that I’ve been evaluating a lot recently and thinking a lot about. I have comments on my blogs and I’ve always said have comments enabled, because it’s a way for you to kind of have a two-way street when it comes to your content creation. You create that content, you get questions, and it’s kind of this conversation that you can have in the comments.
Over months and years I’ve found that the value that’s coming from the comments is not what it used to be. And the conversations are not what they used to be. And there are so many more spam comments that come along with it, I have to moderate comments significantly more today than I ever did before.
Is there value in it? Absolutely. It’s a good way of keeping the conversation going, having a conversation is a good way of remaining top of mind, and the more top of mind you can be with your customers or your potential customers, the more likely they are going to be doing business with you. It’s a matter of where you want to have that conversation, where do you want to invest and have that conversation. Do you want to do that directly in the comments, do you want to do that in email.
I also have been emphasizing email exchanges now even when I send an automated email, in some of my funnels I invite them to respond in a certain way via email, and that’s another way of getting the conversation going. But someone might say, “You know what, I don’t have time to moderate comments, that’s not where I want to focus my time and energy. Instead I’m focusing on Instagram and I want to build my platform on Instagram as a place where I can have that conversation.” In that case, you may chose to say I’m going to do Instagram Stories and invite people to leave their comments as responses to my Instagram Story. For me it’s a matter of where do you want to focus, where do you think you’re going to get the biggest return on your investment. Because there is value in the conversation and it’s a matter of determining where you want that conversation to happen.
Rich: Alright. Now I’m sure you hear this a lot, I’m sure you get this question a lot. Is their an optimal frequency for blog posts or an optimal length?
Leslie: I hear that question a whole lot. And my answer to the question is…
Rich: Everybody wants a magic number, right?
Leslie: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Just tell me how often I’m supposed to do it and how long it’s supposed to be. I’m going to try to do that and get it right every time, now I have the formula for success!
But for me it’s more a matter of, there is one thing that I think is very important, and that is consistency. If you’re trying to build an audience, which is what we’re trying to do, if you’re trying to build an audience it’s going to be much easier to do that if your audience knows when you’re going to show up. And for me, a good frequency is at least once a week. Because if I know every Monday I can count on a new piece of content at 8am from Rich, after a certain while that’s going to kind of be built into my weekly schedule. That’s where I like to be. So I like the frequency of once a week, not more than that unless you can sustain it.
Now if you can sustain having 2, 3, 4, or 5 pieces of content every single week and do that consistently, more power to you. You’re providing more value in some cases, if you’re doing it the right way. So for me it’s a matter of what will work for you and your audience in terms of being consistent.
Now in terms of the ideal blog length, I think it all depends on your audience. If I have a very technical audience that is very into the nitty gritty detail of how to do some very complicated topic and I give them a 300 word article, that’s probably not going to be good enough for them. But if I have an audience that has a relatively short attention span and I’m giving them a 3,000 word article, that’s probably not going to work for them either. So it comes down to knowing your audience.
Now there are some basic things in terms of search engine optimization in terms of the minimum length that you want to have. I generally recommend that people follow the Yoast SEO practices if they’re using WordPress. It has a recommended minimum depending on the type of post you’re creating of 300-500 words if it’s going to be a cornerstone article, the article is going to be a little longer.
So I just tell people generally try to at least meet their guidelines, but then from there experiment and see when I write a longer post that’s 1,200 words, my audience seems to respond much better because they feel as if they’re getting more value. Well if that’s providing more value to your audience then that’s what you do. You experiment, you test things out, and you see what works for your audience.
Rich: We’ve had a lot of SEO experts on this show over the years, and one of the things that seems to be happening now is Google is seemingly rewarding longer posts; 1,500, 2,500, 10,000 words. But I think one of the things you mentioned earlier that’s important here is SEO is not the only way to build your blog. In fact, it may be a great discovery method, but it’s not the way that’s going to bring people back again and again to your blog.
So again, it really depends on the kind of blog you’re running. And like you said, if it’s a 300 word blog post but that’s what your audience wants and they’re willing to come back via email and social media, then that’s probably a successful number for you.
Leslie: Exactly. And what I found personally is some of my really long content does very well in search engines. And what I’ve also found is some of my shorter content works very well in the search engines as well. There are more factors that come into play, post length, there is definitely data out there showing that the longer your post length is the more likely you’re going to be found in Google. And there are different factors that go into that, but it’s not the only factor. And as you mentioned, it’s not the only platform. So it depends on where you’re attracting your audience, how you’re attracting your audience, what your audience is looking for, and how you can provide the most value.
Rich: A lot of good stuff. A lot of stuff to unpack here, it sounds like we’re just scraping the surface, Leslie. So why don’t you share with us where people can find you online.
Rich: Sounds like you have all the right domains.
Leslie: I try my best, man.
Rich: Leslie, it was great chatting with you today, I really enjoyed myself. Thanks again for your time.
Leslie: And thanks for having me on.
Leslie Samuel understands the art of blogging and how to use it to build a successful business. Check out his website if you’re looking to start your own blog, and start your own journey from an idea to a blog.
Rich Brooks is the President of flyte new media, a web design & digital marketing agency in Portland, Maine, and founder of the Agents of Change. He’s passionate about helping small businesses grow online and has put his 20+ years of experience into the book, The Lead Machine: The Small Business Guide to Digital Marketing.