If you’ve been blogging for a long time, you’ve likely felt a shift in how blogs are created and received. Ten years ago, the golden era of business blogging, the goal was to rank. Rank at all costs. Stuff keywords, buy backlinks, submit your blog to 1,000 directories. The goal was obscene amounts of traffic. And the idea was simple, it was a numbers game: get 10,000 visitors, convert 1% and profit. Back in the day, 80% of the content focus was Google and 20% of the content focus was user experience. Well, Google caught on, and so did consumers.
Both Google and consumers have evolved tremendously since 2010. And in addition to their evolution – maybe the reason for their evolution is that – blog competition has grown exponentially. Everyone and their second cousin has a blog.
💡 In 2010, there were 148 million blogs worldwide. In 2020, that number has exceeded 600 million. That's a 305% increase in 10 years.
Here are four undeniable facts about blogging in 2020:
- The major players in every industry have staked out their territory in Google. It’s hard to beat them if you’re a brand new blogger.
- The amount of work and resources that goes into a quality blog post is significantly higher than before because your blog’s user experience needs to beat out other blogs.
- While ranking is always a goal with content marketing, there’s been a shift in focus from brute force conversions (via sheer high numbers) to refined conversions, via optimization.
- Blogging is a much more interconnected practice now, where the author’s online presence matters and the blog’s adherence to a certain topic matters.
Someone recently asked if blogging is waning due to the rise in video. There’s no question that video is exploding right now, but blogging isn’t going anywhere, it’s simply evolving. If anything, blogging has reached its mature stage, where those who invest the resources to create only epic posts will see greater returns than ever.
Time and attention are rare resources and when you write a blog post, you are asking someone to spend both their time and attention on your content. People are painfully aware of this and if you don’t meet the very high expectations of readers and Google with your blog, you’re wasting your time creating content that’s dead on arrival.
Every section below works to address all four points made above. When it comes down to it, there’s one solution to all blogging problems: high quality. You’ll see that all suggestions I give converge on creating high quality content.
Epic content is simply high quality content, not along one dimension, but along all dimensions.
Blogging success, much like any other kind of success, is the result of a flywheel effect. It takes a while to get it going, but once you gain some momentum, you can quickly become unstoppable.
One way to get that flywheel turning faster, whether you’ve been stuck for a while or you’re just starting your journey, is to create an epic piece of content that gives you a big initial push.
Epic content has a few characteristics:
Epic content is the ONLY piece a visitor will need to consume in order to satisfy their search query
An epic article doesn’t leave any questions unanswered. These are necessarily long articles that address every possible question a visitor might have about the topic at hand. It answers questions that the reader didn’t even know to ask. The reader walks away from that article feeling like they truly learned something new and valuable. They don’t go back to Google. They feel confident enough to take action.
💡 The average length of a #1 result in Google is 1,447 words (Backlinko)
There are some very measurable benefits to writing these types of articles. One of the benefits is that your time on page goes through the roof, and your dwell time significantly decreases. These metrics signal to Google that your blog is retaining attention, and therefore must be a quality resource.
In addition to pleasing the Google algo, readers will come back to you for other answers in your industry. Instead of searching for a term only, they’ll search for “term” + “your company.” That’s powerful! Not only does this further signal to Google that people enjoy your content, but it also keeps your traffic flowing steadily.
Epic content is well-written and error-free
Bad writing ruins good content. Errors in grammar and spelling are distracting and diminish the author’s authority on the subject. Readers might leave your site halfway through the article out of sheer frustration that they have been given the mental load of correcting the article as they read. Don’t put that on your reader.
Get your article edited and proofread before you hit publish. If you’re more of a talker than a writer, record yourself explaining the ideas and have a skilled ghostwriter put it into writing for you.
One of the results of writing epic content is that people are more likely to share it. However, if your article is written poorly, that likelihood drops significantly because people share what makes them look smart – and grammar errors don’t make anyone look smart. On top of that, you might lose much-needed opportunity with top influencers in your industry who might have otherwise shared your article with their established audience.
Epic content is optimized for its audience and its audience’s intent
Know thy audience is blogging’s first commandment. Every blog’s audience is slightly different, and knowing what your audience responds to is the first step towards optimizing your posts. There are several dimensions you can optimize for, and if you don’t know yet what your audience prefers, you can benchmark against industry standards.
A few areas to watch out for are readability, paragraph lengths, adjective and adverb density, rhythm, passive voice, tone and sentiment.
An audience whose search intent was to learn the absolute basics of neuroscience isn’t going to respond well to a post full of jargon (low readability), academic speak (high passive voice), and complex trains of thought (long paragraphs and poor rhythm).
Understand how to best package your information so as to make it as easy as possible for your audience to unpack and digest.
Epic content has lots of supporting outbound links
You might be the absolute king of your industry, but you don’t exist in a vacuum. Most pieces of content contain some measure of outside knowledge or references to other people’s work. Adding outbound links to your claims will build upon your credibility by showing that you are both well-informed and transparent.
Outbound links that are somewhat unrelated to your post (for example, see above where I linked to an article about the flywheel effect) are like fun nuggets for your reader. They’ll come away feeling like, not only have they answered the question they were after, but they gained some extra knowledge in the process.
High quality outbound links also have a small effect on your ranking because it shows that you are associating your information with established industry leaders. It’s like reverse backlinking.
Epic content is updated often
Writing a long, comprehensive, beautifully written article is great. But if the article isn’t updated often to reflect changes in the industry or in the world, then it’s missing out on most of its potential.
Neil Patel, the king on inbound, has said that he has 3 full-time employees devoted solely to updating old content.
Updating your article will keep your content relevant to both readers and Google. When you make significant changes to your content, Google allows you to change the publish date which both ranks higher and is more sought out by users.
Epic content is visually appealing.
The words you write carry 80% of the weight in its quality evaluation. But remember that an article sits inside of a blog which sits inside of a website. Part of the user experience goes beyond reading; their eyes wander around the page and look for visual anchors to keep them engaged and motivated to reach the end of the long article.
Make sure that your website and blog look clean and distraction-free. If you monetize with ads, place them strategically so that your words can shine. Make your font size big and dark enough that people won’t need to squint.
Add some on-brand custom illustrations, keep your colors consistent, keep your fonts in the same family.
Approach your blog aesthetic in the same way you would approach your website aesthetic.
Epic content is organized in a predictable structure
Because epic content tends to be long, it’s all the more important to organize it in a way that is easy for the reader to follow. Long content that is made up of paragraph after paragraph without any clear division in sections is more difficult to navigate.
You want your reader to know there’s an end to one section and a beginning to another. It makes the content easier to skim, and gives the reader comfort to know what’s likely coming next.
If you start a section with an image, start every section with an image. If you start a section with a quote, start every section with a quote. If you bold your terms and definitions, bold every term and definition.
The Ultimate Takeaway
Blogging in 2020 is hard. It’s not a matter of sitting down for 30 minutes and making sure that your keyword appears 2 to 3 times in the first paragraph. You have to invest a significant amount of time, tools and resources to get a post to the point where it is worth ranking, worth reading all the way through and worth sharing.
If blogging is a serious part of your content marketing strategy, then creating epic content is the only way to go. Anything less is a waste of resources.