What the Future Holds for Business Blogging

future-lightbulbsLately, the whole marketing community is abuzz about content. And rightfully so. Content is a necessity for any successful inbound marketing strategy, and with more and more marketers creating it, it's becoming increasingly difficult to stand out from the barrage of content out there -- a lot of which is, well .... subpar (to put it nicely). 

If you haven't yet flipped through Velocity Partners' SlideShare deck, "Crap. The Content Marketing Deluge," it's definitely worth a look (we've embedded it below). It's no wonder the 2013 State of Inbound Marketing report revealed that 18% of marketers are making quality content their top priority this year.

The good news is, while it's becoming harder and harder to get eyeballs on your content, the future is bright for marketers committed to quality. And because business blogging is one of the most effective ways for marketers to consistently deliver content to their audiences -- and because it's right in my wheelhouse as HubSpot's blog manager -- I thought I'd share with you what I think the future of business blogging holds.

No one ever said prediction posts had to be limited to Q4, after all. 

Content quality makes or breaks successful business blogs -- and credible businesses. 

I'm starting with this one because we're already starting to see it happen. In fact, it was the catalyst behind that Velocity Partners SlideShare (viewable below), and it's why Google has made so many search algorithm updates like Panda and Penguin (the latest of which was just rolled out yesterday) to reward high-quality content and push crappy content to the bottom of the search results.

 
In the early days of business blogging when there were fewer players in the game, it was easy to get found in search with mediocre content because the competition was much lower. But we're at a critical turning point in business blogging history, and marketers are finding that just stringing together a few words and peppering that content with keywords is no longer a viable option. As more and more marketers start to realize the need for business blogging -- 62% of marketers will blog in 2013, according to the 2013 State of Inbound Marketing -- and the competition per industry gets even tougher, content quality will separate the wheat from the chaff. While this reminds us of the not-so-sunny side of business blogging's future, posing a big challenge for marketers -- it also highlights a major opportunity for businesses to differentiate themselves.
 
Furthermore, marketers will throw ill-conceived quality indicators like word count out the window, and realize that "quality" doesn't have a one-size-fits-all definition. It will mean different things for different businesses and their audiences -- and for different types of blog content, for that matter -- and marketers will learn to develop their own definition of "quality content" that's specific to them.
 
Finally, the impact of content quality will extend beyond visitors' perceptions of a business' blog alone -- it will also make or break people's perception of that entire business' credibility. As business blogging becomes more pervasive, companies that embrace quality content and cultivate a great content brand will be viewed as more credible and authoritative, while companies who fail at content quality will suffer.

Businesses realize the need to build in-house content teams.

Companies that realize content creation is a must have historically employed a variety of different tactics to feed their business blogs -- not just limited to internal resources. They may rely on agency resources, or they may outsource content creation to a freelancer. While these are great ways for businesses to develop content if they're strapped for time, outsourcing content creation is far less likely to result in that high-quality content you should be striving for. Why? Because most agencies and freelancers aren't specialized in your particular industry, and in order to create high-quality content, you need the expertise and insights of the people who know your industry well. People like ... your internal team. 

As a result, marketing teams will realize the importance of internal content creators -- people with writing chops and industry knowledge. According to the 2013 State of Inbound Marketing, only 9% of companies employ a full-time blogger, but I bet we'll see this percentage grow in the coming years. As marketing teams take steps to cultivate a content culture, we'll also see traditional marketers by trade hone their writing skills at the risk of getting left behind. And while blogging has long been considered an entry-level role or a part-time gig, we'll watch as seasoned, classically trained writers and journalists gravitate toward business' content teams. As a result ... 

Businesses increase content variety and start publishing more op-ed-style content.

As businesses grow their internal content teams and start treating them as internal publishing houses, not only will we start to see content quality increase -- we'll also see a surge in content variety. Businesses that build an in-house news operation will have more skilled writers on hand, and the recent trend of veteran journalists jumping ship and joining companies' internal content teams will become even more commonplace. Consider Michelle Kessler of USA Today (now at Qualcomm), Steve Hamm of BusinessWeek (now at IBM), and Rafe Needleman of CNET (now at Evernote), and Brian Caulfield of Forbes (now at NVIDIA) -- all of whom have already made the shift. This will result in more sophisticated, op-ed-style content as well as more diversified content in general. We'll see less and less of the easy-to-create blog posts like curated lists, and more and more thought leadership pieces, op-ed-like stories, and occasional content that's mainly entertaining in nature (albeit on-brand). 

Marketers use their blogs for more than just attracting visitors at the top of the funnel and generating new leads.

Historically, business blogs have been hailed as a powerful top-of-the-funnel tool for attracting new visitors through channels such as search engines and social networks. It's also been recognized as an excellent, low-cost new lead driver; according to our Marketing Benchmarks report, companies that increase blogging from 3-5x/month to just 6-8x/month almost double their leads. This won't change, but marketers will realize their blog's readership is made up of more than just brand new site visitors -- leads and customers are also following their blog. And with recent marketing technology advancements like dynamic, or "Smart" content, marketers will also start to understand their blog's role in the rest of the inbound marketing methodology -- not just in the 'Attract' and 'Convert' stages, but also in the 'Close' and 'Delight' stages. Realizing their blog is something of an inbound marketing Swiss army knife, marketers will be smarter about leveraging these technologies and tactics to use their blog to nurture existing leads and delight current customers, too -- without alienating any one type of visitor or lifecycle stage.

Marketers reconsider the metrics their blog is measured by. 

As marketers start treating their business blogs as in-house news publications -- and as they start to optimize for its other use cases in the middle and bottom of the funnel, they'll realize the limitations of traditional blog performance indicators like traffic and inbound links. As a result, more marketers will start to measure the ROI of their blogging efforts using closed-loop analytics -- to understand their blog's impact on lead generation and customer acquisition and tie their business blogging efforts to the bottom line. 

Moreover, marketers will add some other critical metrics to the mix. Engagement metrics like new audience growth, retention, and subscriber churn will become increasingly important measures of business blogging success as marketers look to grow the reach of their blog while also retaining current readership. 

Blogs get smart.

As businesses start investing more time in content creation and, thus, publishing more and more content, content discovery will become a much bigger priority. Marketers will seek to extend the shelf-life of the blog content they put so much time into creating, get more mileage out of evergreen content, surface the right content to the right visitors, and increase the stickiness of their blog to keep readers around for longer (and beef up those retention metrics). As more and more marketers buy into "the age of context," realizing the importance of context and how it can strengthen the entire marketing funnel, marketers will also recognize the need to create a much more personalized, dynamic experience for their readers. 

Since most blog designs today (yes -- including this one) mainly serve up content in chronological order and are to some degree static, marketers will turn to the design and layout of their blogs as a solution. And with the increase in blogging adoption, technologies will continue to emerge to enable smarter blog content. This will result in richer, more personalized and dynamic blog designs that cater to visitors on an individual basis, automatically displaying and recommending the content that interests them at that time rather than organized in chronological order. Blog designs will also have an increased focus on improving user experience, taking into consideration and optimizing for how readers navigate, scroll through, and look for the content that's important to them -- not just what was published most recently. 

Marketers finally invest in their blog's mobile experience.

hubspot-newsstand-appWhile mobile optimization has gained traction among marketers over the past couple years, most marketers are only just scratching the surface. And although having a mobile-friendly blog and website has become a 'must have' for marketers, mobile friendliness will no longer be enough. With comScore reporting that 4 out of every 5 minutes spent using mobile media are spent within apps, marketers will realize the need for mobile versions of their blog -- built specifically for the mobile experience. 

As a result, we'll start to see marketers double down on their investment in their blog's mobile experience, turning to platforms like the Apple Newsstand, the Kindle App store, and other mobile applications like Flipboard to deliver magazine-like versions of their blog content and give their audiences unique and truly mobile-optimized experiences. 

Comments become much more useful.

Unless you're Seth Godin, we can all probably agree that blog comments are a necessary feature of any blog. They foster engagement with readers, facilitate interesting discussions, and generally make your blog more social. But aside from that, there's not really much else going for them. They're difficult to measure, they exist in a vacuum, they get raided by spammers, and the truly insightful commenters are often overshadowed by nasty trolls and thoughtless readers leaving superficial sentiments. While a few technologies like Facebook's Comments Box have emerged in an attempt to make comments more social and integrated with other platforms, comment engines have yet to be perfected.

But as marketing technologies continue to develop, comment engines will get much more sophisticated, integrated, measurable ... and valuable. Not only will they pull in conversations already happening in social media, but they'll also incorporate Social Inbox-like features, connecting with marketers' contacts databases to identify whether a commenter is a new visitor, a lead in their database, or a customer -- and have analytics to go with them. As a result, marketers will be able to personalize their responses and make comments a much more useful tool -- for themselves, their sales teams, and for their readers.

Blogs become THE place to market your business.

Today, marketers are still investing a lot of resources into search engines and online advertising. The problem is, none of these channels are assets owned by the marketer, and they largely depend on "borrowed" audiences and paid media. But as more and more marketers commit to content, they'll realize the limitations of relying on third parties, the power of marketing their business on a channel they own, and the control that comes with it. Unlike a media outlet building reader trust, then trying to leverage that trust in order to generate clicks on brands' ads, marketers will realize they can cut out the middle man, build trust directly with their audience, and market to them more cost-effectively and authentically through their own blogs.

As a result, the blog will become THE place to market a business. It will become the center of marketers' content universes, and lead to a wave of marketers who treat their blogs like a business in and of itself -- using other reliable marketing tools and channels like social media, email, SEO, and analytics to support and promote its growth. 'Blog marketing' will take on a completely new meaning ... for the better.

Image Credit: Alan Cleaver

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