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Content Strategy

How to Convert Blog Traffic

By March 30, 2022April 4th, 2022No Comments

So you’ve got some blog traffic?

Nice. 

It’s not an easy feat. 

Most of us languish after a few dozen blog posts and maybe a couple thousand visitors a month. Well before the privileged point at which you have to worry about actually converting these readers into subscribers, leads, customers…whatever. 

So I congratulate you. I’m also stoked for you, because this work is some of the most fun you’ll get to do in marketing. 

I know because this is the combination of my two specialities – content and conversion optimization. 

I got to work on converting blog traffic at both CXL and at HubSpot, and I’ve done so with several of our large B2B clients as well. I’ve also done general optimization and experimentation for a handful of clients, so I’ve got a lot of tips and tricks to share. 

Content optimization and conversion can be a whole different beast than other forms of CRO. 

So let’s start simple: what does it even mean to convert a blog reader?

What is a Blog Conversion? Defining Your Business Goals and KPIs

Typically, in conversion optimization, you map out your KPIs as the most proximate point of action that leads to monetary value.

In B2B or SaaS, this is usually a lead or a trial. If you’ve got a well-orchestrated analytics system, it might be high fit leads or a predictive scoring for freemium signups. 

In B2C or ecommerce, it’s a bit easier: you can index on conversions, average order value, or revenue per visitor. These are all basically stock metrics in tools like Optimizely. 

But with a blog, it’s harder to define, in large part because blog posts can vary *widely* in intent. 

A blog post titled “what is content marketing” probably won’t bring in bottom-funnel traffic; therefore, it’s probably not going to convert readers to demo requests. 

But perhaps a roundup listicle of the “best content marketing tools” will indeed lead to product signups. 

Two very different blog posts and conversions, but they could live right next to each other on your blog category page. 

So, let’s break it down: what *should* your conversion KPI be?

Everyone is going to have a different answer, and obviously it’s going to depend on your business. 

But if I’m speaking in the broadest possible terms, for the vast majority of businesses, here’s what I’d advise: create three different categories of conversions and index on whichever conversion you think is most appropriate for the blog post at hand.

Your three conversion types should be as follows:

  1. Email list / general subscribers (mainly TOFU)
  2. Content leads / offer signups (TOFU and MOFU)
  3. Product signups / sales demos (BOFU content)

So the first step, then, is mapping out the intent of your blog post and orchestrating corresponding offers and CTAs for that intent.

Mapping Our Blog Post Intent and the Customer Journey

There are many models for mapping blog intent. They’re all useful in some ways, and they’re all complete. 

Here’s one model for search intent:

  • Informational
  • Navigational intent
  • Transactional intent
  • Commercial investigation

I’ll use examples from the “email marketing” space to fill in the details here.

Informational keywords cater towards answers and education. This could be something like “email marketing best practices

Navigational intent implies the user wants to go to a specific location or website. This could be something like “ConvertKit” or “ConvertKit Login”

Transactional keywords imply buying intent and tend to rank product pages and Google Shopping links. Think “email marketing software”

In the B2B content space, transactional keywords often blend together with commercial investigation keywords, which imply shopping and information gathering for commercial intent. Like “best email marketing software”

This intent model tends to be best for planning which types of pages and types of content you should publish to rank for a specific query. But it’s not the best at pinpointing the stage of the customer journey. 

A better model for that, maybe the most common, is the “funnel”

  • Top of the funnel – high volume, low intent
  • Middle of the funnel – mid volume, mid intent
  • Bottom of the funnel – low volume, high intent

Image Source

Even this is a bit vague, so it helps to break apart the stages even more granularly with something like the “product awareness funnel”:

Image Source

I actually map things out through a combination of the above two models. Here’s what a typical spreadsheet looks like for me:

The left starts out being very high traffic / low intent (TOFU) and as you scale right it gets closer and closer to the bottom of the funnel. But I break it out by the “type” of keyword or topic:

  • What – “what is email marketing”
  • How (high level) – “how to build an email list”
  • How (template) – “email marketing templates”
  • Tool discovery – “best email newsletter tools”
  • Comparisons – “mailchimp vs convertkit”
  • Buy/try – “convertkit pricing”

One thing to note is that this is mainly for Product Led Content. I model thought leadership and “buzzworthy content” much differently, since the goals tend to be more catered towards traffic and awareness and links than conversions. 

There’s no single best way to do this, but you should have a process if only because it forces you to ask the questions:

  • “Where in the user journey is this reader”
  • “What’s the purpose and aim of this content”

And then those questions can help you backfill a conversion offer. 

For example, I’m not going to put a demo request CTA on my “what is email marketing” blog post. I’ll probably put an email list signup form or a gated ebook. 

But if someone is searching “mailchimp vs convertkit” I might as well pitch a free trial. The user is actively searching and comparing the two products. They probably don’t need a guide on the “email marketing best practices” at this point – they already know they want to do email marketing and just need a tool!

This is for content planning, but what if you want to optimize existing content? That’s even easier. I’ll give you two ways to identify the intent of your historical posts

Historical Blog Optimization: How to Find the Intent of Existing Content

Content mapping for new content is a similar process to that of old content.

Sam Chapman, Director of Content Strategy and Brand Experience at Aprimo, puts it like this:

Know your content landscape – what you’ve already published, how it has performed, when it was last refreshed, etc., and then map the whole thing out by intent, pain points, related products or services, thought leadership topics and so on. This will help you put a mirror up between your blog content and your target audience to better understand them both as causal actors. 

Sam Chapman

So you’ve got a bunch of blog posts and they’re bringing you traffic. How do you know which ones have a high propensity to convert on a certain type of offer? 

The first way is easy and anyone can do it. You look at which keywords are bringing in your visitors and organize them by a) CPC and b) qualitative intent type.

Let’s say I’m going to optimize Moosend’s blog. First, plug it into Ahrefs:

Then head over to the organic keywords report and export your data to CSV.

Pull it over to Excel and sort your data by the highest to lowest CPC and create a new column for buyer’s stage or type of intent. In that column, you can use whichever model is most useful for you. But it’s important to have, because high CPC does tend to correlate with BOFU intent, but not always. You’ll still have to do a manual SERP analysis and gut check.

For example, the top keyword here is “email endings.” Here’s what we get when we search it: 

Clearly not a bottom funnel term. I’d categorize this as something like “informational,” “what,” or “top of the funnel.” 

But if we search “email newsletter software,” there are tons of ads and product listicles. This is clearly “bottom of the funnel,” “product led,” or “commercial investigation.” 

So then I’d go back and optimize those posts with two different offers to facilitate the intent of each post. 

The other way to find high converting content assumes you a) have access to Google Analytics b) have some sort of existing offer and c) have goals set up for that offer. 

You can just sort by your Behavior > Site Content > Landing Pages reports and see which blog posts convert higher or lower than average. I’ll use our own website as an example. 

We have three offers that coordinate to different funnel stages:

  • Lead (BOFU)
  • Offer Hours (MOFU)
  • Offer (TOFU)

Our blog is relatively low traffic, so this may not be super illustrative but it’s what we’ve got. Use the comparison view and set your comparison metric to be “conversion rate” – this allows you to see how certain landing pages deviate above or below the website conversion rate average:

This way, we can learn what is resonating about our highest converting posts and start to root out why the lowest performing ones are underperforming. This, then, requires conversion research (which I’ll cover in a minute).

There, now you can identify to a certain level of accuracy which posts resonate with customers at certain stages of the funnel.

What Does Your Audience Want? The Magic of Conversion Research

It would be absolutely irresponsible of me to write a blog post about converting blog traffic and not talk about conversion research.

You see, many people misunderstand conversion rate optimization.

People who optimize landing pages tend to think of it in terms of persuasion tactics like urgency, social proof, and copywriting techniques. 

People who optimize product onboarding tend to think of it in terms of reducing friction or improving clarity. 

And people who optimize blog traffic tend to think mostly in the realm of CTA placements. 

This, however, is limited thinking.

What you want to do is start with questions. Namely, “what do my users *want*?” And secondarily, “what is preventing them from getting it?” 

If you don’t know that, any tactics you apply will be guessing games. 

While I won’t be able to give you a whole rundown of conversion research (there are whole schools for that), I’ll give you a brief overview of the research methodologies I like to use for blogs and content marketing:

  • Surveys
  • On-site polls
  • SEO data
  • Interviews
  • User testing

Your root goal with each of these is to understand what users want and figure out ways to deliver that. Your proximate goal (what you hope to learn) will depend on the type of research modality and your specific context. 

Surveys

Surveys are one of the easiest ways to learn about your audience. If you’re not running them, start now. 

You can survey non-readers if you have a Twitter or LinkedIn following. But I like to survey my new blog subscribers to learn about what drove them to sign up and what they hope to learn.

All you need to do is set up automated drip sequences for new email list subscribers. In the 2nd or 3rd email, ask readers to take a survey. 

Obviously, your survey will contain questions specific to your business and context. But some questions I like to ask:

  • Who are you (describe yourself)? – an open ended question to see how people describe themselves. Good persona research
  • Industry, Title, Company Size (good demographic / firmographic stuff for personas)
  • What drove you to sign up for our newsletter?
  • Which of these topics are you most interested in: X, Y, Z (rank them)
  • If we were to create a course, which topic would you most like us to cover?
  • If you could wave a magic wand and fix one work problem, what would it be?
  • What other blogs, publications, podcasts, and influencers do you follow?

Since this is in a drip campaign, you’re ideally not looking to answer specific questions, but rather general questions that help you understand your audience. 

The answers to these questions should help you ideate blog post topics, content offers, guest post locations, and more. 

Good survey tools:

On-site polls

On-site polls are similar to surveys in that they offer the ability to ask qualitative and attitudinal questions, but they differ in that you can place them on your website and get the insights of anonymous website visitors. 

This is valuable, because they haven’t signed up for your email list or offer…yet. 

You can get their insights, both positive and negative, before the point at which they convert. 

So for these, I like to go one of two ways: either try to tease out their motivation, or try to understand their frustrations or what they can’t find.

A few good routes for questions…

Discover the intent of their visit:

  • “What did you come to this site to do today?”
  • “What were you hoping to find on this page?”
  • “What were you looking for?”

Find new topic / information gaps:

  • “What topics would you like to see us write about next?”
  • “What other products would you like to see us offer?”
  • “Did this article answer your question?”
  • “Were you able to find the information you were looking for?”
  • “What other information would you like to see on this page?”

Uncover issues (typically for BOFU pages):

  • “Is there anything preventing you from signing up at this point?”
  • “What could we do to make this site more useful?”
  • “What’s preventing you from starting a trial?”
  • “What prevented you from doing what you came to the site to do?”

As always, though, cater the questions towards what business question you want to answer (and make sure you know what you’ll do when you collect the information).

Good poll tools:

SEO data

Because most SEOs don’t do CRO (and vice versa), this research methodology is underrated. 

You can find so much valuable information about user intent from your keyword research / SEO tool.

I’ll just give you a quick example from my own personal blog. Currently, I have a generic email optin form that appears on all blog posts, regardless of content:

However, if I wanted to squeeze more juice out of my blog, I could personalize the offer to match the search intent of the page. 

Take, for example, this blog post on why you should read 50 books per year. Gets a lot of traffic, especially around the New Year (resolutions and all that).  

The absolute easiest way I can figure out what people are looking for when they come to this page is to look at the keywords that are bringing in traffic. I simply plug this into Ahrefs and look at the keywords:

The first thing I notice when scanning this data is a lot of these are phrased as questions:

  • How many books should i read?
  • How many books does the average person read?

So what I could do here is survey 20+ marketing and business leaders about how many books they read, put together a mini research report or ebook, and offer that as a lead magnet. 

I already know that satisfies user intent because that’s mapped exactly to the keyword that people are coming in with.

Customer Interviews

Easy one, but content marketers rarely do this: talk to customers. 

If you can’t talk to customers, listen to sales calls (do you have software like Gong?).

Really, though, the most impactful thing I’ve done in my content marketing career is get close to my customers – in many cases, I’ve *become* my customer. When I was working at CXL, for example, I spent a massive amount of time at conferences, in forums, and meeting up with CRO experts for coffee. Eventually I began doing CRO myself. When it came time to ideate or write articles, I knew, almost innately, what content would resonate. 

If you don’t understand your audience, it’s hard to pick topics that will scratch a pain point. And if you’re not scratching a pain point, it’s difficult to build enough resonance to drive conversion.

So it all starts out simple: talk to your customers. Jump on interviews, or ask your product managers to invite you as optional. And if your product managers aren’t talking to customers, well, join a different company. 

User testing

Every once in a while – in my opinion, once a year or so for your blog – you should run moderated user tests. 

This helps you deal with the actual design and architecture of your blog, which of course contributes to your conversion rate. 

User tests are a simple concept: you gather a few test users (typically 5-7 people), sometimes from your target market and sometimes not), and you ask them to complete tasks on your website. As they complete these tasks, you quantitatively time completion, and also qualitatively watch where the struggle as they try to complete the task. 

This gives you a ton of insight, mainly for design and architecture, on how you can improve user experience. 

In the content of a blog, maybe it’s difficult to find a specific subcategory of content. Or it’s hard to find the search bar. Or maybe blog search functionality doesn’t work well. 

You’ll discover all of this in a good user testing session. 

A 3 Point Tactical Guide to Setting Up Blog CTAs

Alright, so we’ve covered the foundations of blog conversion rate optimization: 

  • It starts with mapping your topics to intent
  • Then you do conversion and customer research to discover pain points and UX bottlenecks
  • Now, you set up your CTAs with your offers aligned to the intent and pain point of your users. 

But where the hell do you actually put your CTAs? How do you design them?

There are many theories on this. Some people like to go subtle, favoring a gentle reader experience over aggressive CTA popups. Some (like myself) favor an aggressive, direct response approach with lots of popups and very salient CTAs. 

Your approach will obviously depend on your brand guidelines and tolerance for risk and desire for leads. 

But one framework I love is Andy Crestodina’s 3 P’s model. You grade your CTAs on three dimensions:

  • Prominence
  • Promise
  • Proof

This graphic explains it at a high level:

Image Source

But I’ll walk through each item in detail below.

Prominence

The first P, prominence, simply refers to how noticeable your CTA is. If no one notices your CTA – if no one can find it – it doesn’t matter how persuasive your copy or offer is. 

Prominence can be further broken up into smaller dimensions, like location. Where is it on your site? Is it included in a popup? What style of popup? How many times do you repeat your CTA?

Color and contrast are also important. Does it stand out? Or does it suffer from banner blindness?

In the blog post I’m referencing, you can see here that there is a sticky CTA (it follows you as you scroll) at the bottom of the page. This is a good split between noticeable, but not annoying:

Obviously, a popup is highly salient, but it can also annoy certain audiences. I typically find the tradeoff is worth is, so long as you don’t go Neil Patel style (52 popups in your face before you even read the article):

That’s 5 CTAs before I read the first sentence of the article (and more to come after you scroll). Oof. Too much. 

You have to strike the right balance, but most content marketers bias towards “too few” and “too subtle” and could benefit from being more salesy. Especially for bottom of the funnel content. 

Promise

The next P is promise. In essence, what’s in it for me? What am I getting by giving you my email address or other information?

I find this to be critical. You can sprinkle on all the social proof, authority, urgency, and other persuasion jedi mind tricks that you want. But if your offer sucks, then it will fail. 

Think of the blandest offer possible – “get notified” or “get regular updates.”

Why the hell would I want to get regular updates? That almost sounds like a negative.

This one, for example, while alluding to some exclusive value, is relatively generic:

HubSpot is great at creating offers that map to the blog post at hand. A piece of gated content, if crafted well, is a great value add. This one, for example, is offered on their blog post on “lead generation”

You can also just purely offer an email list signup, but you have to explain why it’s often and how often they’ll get emails. 

Proof

Finally, proof. 

This one is more of a persuasive sprinkle on top of the CTA being a) noticeable and b) relevant. 

But persuasion is important. 

You’ve made your promise; how can you prove it?

One of the best ways is through social proof. How many other people are on your email list? If it’s a big number, this is a good point of proof. This one is from Copyhackers:

If you don’t have a large email list, but you have some important companies represented on your list, you can mention those. 

David, my co-founder here at Omniscient, mentions that Webflow, Miro, Twilio employees are on his list:

Other things that work include small testimonials, logos, points of authority (Forbes 30 or 30, or whatever BS people believe in nowadays), or really anything else that will cause your target market to say “ahhh, okay…I can trust them!” 

In essence, you want your offers to be noticeable and to reach the right person with the right offer at the right time. Sam Chapman again offers some holistic advice:

Is it easy to subscribe to your blog feed or newsletter? And does it fit well with the blog’s UX so it’s not annoying or intrusive to the reading experience? Get that done, test it, keep an eye on it. Then start with your top performing content and the content you’ve run an SEO audit on for low hanging fruit and optimize with clear calls to action. They should be strategically placed – inline or interstitial however you want to design them be sure you’re using some data behind your decision. Look at scroll depth, dwell, time, run Hotjar for heat mapping on how your audience is interacting with your posts. Then be sure that those clear CTAs are contextually relevant, so your ask isn’t coming out of left field. You can also use this data to engage your chatbot based on behavior – is a reader dwelling deep on bottom of the funnel how it works product post? Engage the chatbot to see if they want to learn more or grab a free trial, or just talk to a live human being.

Sam Chapman

Operationalizing Blog Optimization: Where Does it Fit Into Your Process?

This last section is a bit more management focused, but I wanted to address two questions: 

Who owns blog optimization?

How often do I do blog optimization?

We’ll start with the latter: how often do I do blog optimization?

In one sense, you’re always doing it. Your content strategy, by and large, should be indexed on your business strategy. Which is to say, your blog should be actively driving business metrics like revenue, and you should have set up leading indicators on the blog that lead to those metrics.

Obviously, you can set KPIs for leads from the blog. But even if your approach is more brand and thought leadership focused, you can still set up proxy conversions for email list sign up or “repeat visitors” to show that you’re accomplishing your goals. 

In another sense, I think you should set aside specific time once per quarter to audit your existing content and update and optimize it. 

This is where you enter your domain into Ahrefs and Google Analytics, pick out pieces that are underperforming when it comes to conversions, and hand selecting a few pieces to spruce up. Once per quarter is a great pace for this. 

Now – who owns blog optimization?

This, by and large, depends. 

The most mature content organizations have a dedicated person or team for this. I’ve heard it called “content acceleration” at Shopify and at other organizations. I’ve heard it called “blog CRO” at HubSpot and other organizations.

But most won’t have the luxury of dedicated teams. So does growth own this? SEO? Content? 

In my opinion, this is a good case for content / SEO to be under the same team as growth / acquisition. Or at least to form an SLA and share accountability metrics.

Because if your content team has no accountability for conversion KPIs, you’re going to have a very difficult time building these activities on the roadmap.

But if you let growth and acquisition (people like me) own this fully, you’re going to tip to the far side of the direct-response/aggressive scale, and potentially sacrifice user experience 

So at best, it’s a partnership with a single person bridging content and growth. 

But in reality, you end up needing to do what you situation dictates, and there’s no universal answer here. 

Conclusion 

Blog CRO – converting blog traffic to subscribers, leads, or customers – is fun. And underrated. 

But it’s the secret sauce for companies that are already driving a bit of traffic. At the end of the day, content marketing should drive business value. Sure, traffic can lead to awareness and exposure. 

But awareness itself doesn’t pay the bills. Give me an email list or some leads every day 🙂 

If you’re interested in setting up a blog optimization program we offer this as a service. I’m happy to personally audit your blog to find opportunities. Just email me (my email is easy to find).

Alex Birkett

Alex is a co-founder of Omniscient Digital. He loves experimentation, building things, and adventurous sports (scuba diving, skiing, and jiu jitsu primarily). He lives in Austin, Texas with his dog Biscuit.