Maybe you’ve noticed: It’s getting harder to get a comment or social share on your blog.
That’s because each year, people become more social, and it’s changing the way they interact with brands online.
Before social media came along, there wasn’t much to do online except visit your favorite blogs. Browsing the Internet was like strolling down Main Street, window shopping along the way.
Then social media came along, and we started doing just about everything online.
Like the superstores and malls that made Main Street shops obsolete, so Facebook and Twitter have replaced your casual online browsing. In one spot, you can talk to your friends, get news updates and hear from your favorite brands. There’s not much need to visit your favorite blogs. Just follow them in social media, and they come to you.
What This Means for You
As the world becomes more social, we marketers have to adapt.
See, marketing is about getting the right message in front of the right people at the right time.
So the concept we’ve been nursing for a while now, the idea that your content should reside on your owned property, is losing its effectiveness. If people aren’t visiting blogs, we need to take our message to the sites they are visiting.
That’s the bottom line. But let’s look at what it’s doing to content marketers. What changes are we making to ensure we get the most engagement and readership possible?
Here’s what I’m seeing, and what we’ll see even more in the coming months.
1. Removing Sidebars
For time-crunched, banner-blind visitors, sidebars are little more than background noise. So why are we relying so heavily on them?
According to Michael Dunlop, only around 5 percent of your visitors will actually use the sidebar or footer opt-in. I’ve noticed that as well. The majority of my subscribers come in through a form that isn’t in my sidebar.
So a lot of marketers are questioning the “best practice” of including a sidebar form on a site, especially if you’re trying to improve conversions.
We agree that a web page should have just one goal. That means one call to action and no distractions, and it’s why we remove the sidebar from a landing page.
But if the sidebar is a distraction on your landing pages, it’s probably a distraction on your blog too. Rather than adding value, it could actually be lowering your conversion rate—whether that’s readership or subscriptions or sales.
It may be worth considering streamlining your pages and removing sidebars.
Let’s look at a few examples
When Firepole Marketing rebranded to Mirasee, aside from the color change, the removal of the sidebar was one of its most distinctive changes. As you can see, no sidebars gives a distraction-free reading experience:
VideoFruit lost its sidebar a while ago. Now, it has a clean, crisp, easy-to-read design, thanks to the generous white space on either side of the blog post.
Then there’s Mashable.
Mashable typically leads the way in digital publishing. Take a close look at their blog and you’ll see a slick, magazine-style presentation that invites exploration and engagement.
By removing sidebars, Mashable creates a clean backdrop for their stories and graphics. Their presentation is so attractive, I’m drawn into the story instead of away from it.
Before you jump on the bandwagon
Clearly, no sidebars can help readership and engagement. But before dropping your sidebar, decide where you’ll place your ads and links. A few ideas:
- a banner or bar at the top of the page
- feature boxes inside posts as well as below them
- links in the navigation bar and footer
Want to read more about Mashable’s blog layouts? Read “Can Bloggers Compete with Publishers?” here.
2. Removing Comments
I called out this trend several years ago—and got a lot of comments (see the irony there?) from bloggers who still see value in having comments on their blogs. But more and more bloggers are moving away from comments.
Here are just a few of them:
Are they over-reacting? Maybe not. Most comments I see today are from kiss-ups, self-promoters, haters, trolls or spammers. They rarely add value. They rarely create a conversation.
Curating them is a chore, and the energy you invest in responding appropriately can be exhausting. That time could be better invested in content creation or business building.
Or engaging with people in other channels.
The reality is that most people are finding, digesting and commenting on content from social platforms. Even your biggest fans don’t always have time to visit your blog. So while the goal in blogging is dialog, most conversations aren’t taking place on blogs anymore.
But that doesn’t mean you can’t engage with your readers. Most of the bloggers who are turning off their comments have moved their discussions to social media. But you can get creative and test new ideas. Chris Brogan, for example, is a master of the engaging, conversational emails. In fact, as I wrote this post, this email arrived in my inbox. Of course, I responded.
3. More Focus on Sharable Content
Since brands can get better reach and engagement on social channels, they’re beginning to create content that has a good chance of being shared: memes, click to tweets, original graphics, videos, SlideShares and infographics to name a few.
Here’s how it works…
Rather than creating text-only blog posts, brands are creating content that’s visual, emotional, or eye-catching. Some brands proactively ask people to share them, but that’s not always necessary. Your most social followers are often curators. They’re looking for things they can share. If you become known as a creator of sharable content, your stuff gets shared.
To be honest, this trend is something that’s talked about more than it’s done.
Here’s why: It takes work to create sharable content and make it easy to share. Even top bloggers get busy (or lazy) and don’t make time to add these engagement elements. But as more brands try to increase engagement on their sites, you’re going to see more of this.
Here are a few examples
Brendon Burchard creates video content for YouTube and his blog. He has it transcribed for his blog, then pulls out quotes to turn into memes like this one. Those are shared on Facebook. Notice how easy it would be for a fan to share this.
When I managed the Crazy Egg blog, I created SlideShares for a couple of posts. Not only did they add an interactive element to those posts, they also got our content on a social platform, where it could be viewed and shared.
This is a smart approach that can easily be adapted to your content and your followers. The key is to know what content formats are most engaging to your audience.
Before you jump on the bandwagon
One of the keys to creating sharable content is finding your best content and graphics creation tools. You don’t have to be an expert to get professional-looking results. But you do need to experiment to figure out what works best for you.
Once you know what your go-to tools are, you need to allow extra time to create them. Try to make visuals part of your content creation process, not an afterthought.
4. Publishing Less Often
Years ago, in order to get value from blogging, you had to publish 3–5 days a week. Not so anymore.
Today, with 86% of brands creating content, content shock is setting in. Your followers don’t have enough time to read everything they’re interested in. The brands that publish every day—especially if they send out a daily email—end up getting more unsubscribes than views.
The truth is, a lot of content marketers are getting more engagement by publishing less often.
As a result, moving into 2016, I think the focus will change for many brands. Rather than blogging being the end-all of content marketing, more types of content will be created, and less of it will reside on the blog.
The focus won’t just be quantity vs. quality. It will be relevance, usefulness, engagement and reach. And we’ll start creating content that’s easier for our audience to engage with.
Already we’re seeing more podcasts, videos, webinars and live streams. As we get better at integrating those platforms, we’ll move away from the traditional blog and get more comfortable with posting less frequently.
Before you jump on the bandwagon
There are two things you need to do before moving to infrequent blogging:
- Decide in advance how you’ll make each post stand out.
- Invest more time and energy into promotion and distribution between posts.
You don’t want to disappear for four weeks and then suddenly show up in people’s inbox. You want to make sure you’re still accessible between publication dates.
That said, since you’re publishing less often, you need to put more effort into each post you do publish.
- Do extra research.
- Find exceptional graphics.
- Add multimedia or valuable downloads.
Then between posts:
- Make sure you’re present in social media and/or email.
- Consider republishing excerpts of your posts in Mention or LinkedIn.
- Create memes and graphics for sharing in Facebook and Twitter.
- Create videos, podcasts or SlideShares from your posts.
You get the idea. Publishing to your blog less often isn’t permission to slack off on the content. Use the extra time to increase the quality and variety of your content.
5. Publishing on Platforms You Don’t Own
Content marketers are slowly realizing that, across the board, traffic and engagement on owned property are declining. That’s why even big brands are investing heavily in social media.
This chart from the 2015 State of Social Marketing Report highlights adoption and usage of top social networks. (source)
To get your content in front of your fans, you can’t rely only on your blog. You need to publish more content on social platforms, even if that means less content on your own blog.
For the last several years, I’ve seen brands experimenting with this. And instead of creating a ton of new content, we’re take repurposing and republishing to a new level.
The challenge, of course, is to avoid duplicate content. But since most people engage with content outside of blogs, that’s where content is going to be published. What we’ll need to figure out is whether it works best to publish first on our own blog and then repurpose for other platforms, or to publish first in social channels and use our blog as a portfolio or magazine of everything we’re publishing.
So moving forward, the blog will still be a hub, but it may not be the immediate destination. It will be the place where people can go to see everything you do, but you won’t necessarily force people to click through to read your content. You’ll let them consume your content on other sites, and the people who want to know more about you will click through.
Before you jump on the bandwagon
This is the most intriguing change we’re seeing because it demands more than surface-level changes. Logistically, this one means you’ll need to revamp your content strategy.
But here’s how I’d start planning:
- Plan on publishing your best content off-site.
- Make sure you have valuable content on your site for the people who click through.
- Create conversion-optimized landing pages to capture visitors from specific platforms.
You need to know precisely who you’re targeting, then create native content designed to get their attention. Share content that’s worth sharing, so you can extend your reach. And provide a link so people can click through if they’re interested in what you’re doing.
Ultimately, following this plan, your traffic could end up being higher quality. Get smart with your conversion optimization tactics, and it’s likely that your results will improve overall.
What Do You Think?
What content marketing trends are you seeing? Have you experienced a decline in engagement on your site? If so, how are you planning to improve results?