"Success doesn't necessarily come from breakthrough innovation but from flawless execution. A great strategy alone won't win a game or a battle; the win comes from basic blocking and tackling.” - Naveen Jain

Jain is a business executive, entrepreneur and the founder of InfoSpace. As someone who successfully led a company that was, for a time, one of the largest internet companies in the American Northwest, he’s established himself as someone who knows what it takes to win at entrepreneurship.

InfoSpace was a company that provided information content, like maps, phone directories, and so on, and through Jain’s leadership, they used a co-branded strategy to drive consumption and revenue. Rather than try to get people to come to InfoSpace, they worked with the major websites of the time, like Lycos and Excite, and embedded their InfoSpace branded content onto those sites, receiving a percentage of revenue.

While that sounds brilliant, think about what it took to achieve that co-branded strategy. Jain no doubt had to work closely with the CEOs of those respective sites, explaining to them what InfoSpace had to offer and how that could work to benefit both brands.

And then, InfoSpace had to deliver. Day in and day out. Can you imagine how quickly Excite would have dropped InfoSpace if there’d been service outages?

Basic blocking and tackling. Making sure that the company delivered on expectations and executed flawlessly what their customers demanded.

The Blocking and Tackling of Blogging

That’s not to suggest that blocking and tackling is easy. Or even obvious. To further explore that analogy, because it’s a good one, let’s take a moment to consider what blocking and tackling means, and then we’ll be in a better position to relate the idea to blogging.

Blocking is what the players in the offensive line in a football game do, while tackling is what the defensive players do. Linemen are permitted to position themselves in front of defending players and try to “block” them from getting to whomever is carrying the football at that moment. On the other hand, the defenders are doing everything they can to get their arms around the offensive player who happens to have the football and bring them to the ground in a tackle.

Blocking and tackling requires physical skill, to be sure, as well as practice of technique, and awareness of the game around them. Players need to know who to block or tackle, and to execute those maneuvers well in order to succeed in each play.

And that’s repeated play after play after play, for four quarters of a game, sixteen games a season, year after year.

Note though that we’re not talking about running or breathing or other basic aspects of athleticism. While those skills are needed and used, they’re so basic they’re assumed. Football players must be fast and strong and have stamina, or they’ll never play past middle school flag football (which is about where I stopped, in fact).

When it comes to blogging then, when we say “blocking and tackling” we’re not referring to being able to write, or use grammar, or some of the other fundamentals of blogging. Rather, we’re talking about several key aspects which, if not executed flawlessly, there cannot possibly be a successful blogging strategy.

Who Are You Blogging For

It’s therefore not enough to create a strategy for your blog that focuses on a few topics. You have to have a very specific audience in mind. A few audiences, actually.

Small business owners? Too vague.

Small business owners who want to have a stronger online presence, and are unfamiliar with Google+ and Google My Business? A lot more refined.

The more targeted you get with your audience definition, the better you will be able to hone your writing and topic selection.

More importantly, as Kevan Lee at Buffer puts it, “Building personas for your core audience can help improve the way you solve problems for your customers.”

So take the time to work up personas for your ideal customers. You can see many examples from Hubspot.

But there’s a second dimension to defining your audience and the execution of your blog content, and that is Funnel Analysis.

Funnel Analysis simply refers to understanding what the different stages are for your buyer’s sales cycle, and making sure that you have content appropriate for each stage. They’re typically broken out into:

TOFU - Top Of Funnel

MOFU - Middle Of Funnel

BOFU - Bottom Of Funnel

Top Of Funnel prospects are just finding out about your brand and services, and often don’t even realize that they have a problem which you can solve. Someone catching one of your blog posts on social media and clicking through to read it because it interested them is likely at this stage.

Middle Of Funnel prospects are actively looking for a solution to a known problem, but likely haven’t yet identified what that solution looks like, let alone potential providers. While you might get their attention on social media, it’s more likely that they’ll have found you via search.

Bottom Of Funnel prospects are familiar with you and what you have to offer, and are likely considering you alongside other competitors. They’re probably following one or more of your social media accounts, as well as having subscribed to your email list.

If you are only creating content that’s interesting and relevant to top of funnel prospects, you will find it extremely challenging to see positive results from your content marketing efforts.

At every stage of your sales cycle, your prospects have questions. Some questions may be about you in particular, of course, and your website or a sales representative doubtless does an adequate job of answering those questions.

But what about the questions that are very specific to your solution, but not specific to your brand? Are you addressing those in your content? And if you are, are you making sure that prospects are able to easily move from one piece of content to another, funneling them through your site appropriately?

Think about who you’re blogging for, and the kind of funnel you’re creating for your prospects. That is the first step that we must take to be more strategic with our blogs.

What Are You Blogging About

The second step to flawlessly executing a more strategic blog is to more carefully consider what it is that we’re blogging about.

We mentioned a moment ago the need to create content for our target audiences, and to identify what the sales cycle looks like for our solutions so that the content can assist with each level. Now it’s time to figure out what that is, exactly.

The good news is, there’s no need to guess. You likely already have a lot of positive indicators already as to what you should be writing about.

Sales Team

Whether you have a full sales team, or it’s just you doing all the sales, either way, make sure that there’s a strong relationship and communication between Sales and Marketing. Your marketing needs to understand what questions are being asked by prospects.

Some questions from prospects are great, and demonstrate not only interest in the product, but opportunities for salespeople to do their thing. If they have no questions to answer then they cannot highlight specific features and benefits that they know will resonate with the prospect.

On the other hand, there are no doubt questions you’re getting from prospects which are real barriers to moving forward. The kinds of questions that many prospects run into and decide not to take the time to ask.

Those are the kinds of questions you should consider answering, either on your landing pages themselves, or in blog posts.

Social Media

Another great source of feedback on blog post topics is your online community. You can look at what your followers have been interested in from your past posts, as well as what people are talking about in other communities and on other brand pages.

If I wanted to get a better understanding of where people were struggling with Google+, I’d need only to spend some time in the Plus Your Business Community and get involved in some of the discussions.

Trending topics on Google+, Twitter and Facebook may also provide insight into what your target audience is interested in, assuming such mainstream subjects are appropriate for your business. Most are news and pop culture, but there’s always the possibility for some newsjacking.

Google Analytics

Using Google Analytics, you can review how your existing content has and is performing, and take note of what works and what doesn’t.

Ideally, you would set up your Google Analytics so that you have clear Events and Goals throughout your site so that you can actually track what people do.

Events can be used to monitor activities on specific pages, like whether someone clicked a specific link.

Goals can be used to monitor a specific set of tasks that your site visitors can accomplish, like signing up for a newsletter.

The difference lies in what you wish to measure. While it’s nice to see from your Goal report that you had 20 newsletter signups yesterday, what it can’t tell you is which link or widget those signups came from. Was it the content upgrade form you put at the top of the article, or the sidebar widget?

Events can help us to understand how effective specific tactics are, while Goals help us track overall performance of our content marketing efforts.

With that in mind, and a proper setup of Events and Goals, you can begin to get a sense for how individual pieces of content perform - beyond traffic and social shares, which are not necessarily tied to actual business goals.

If you can see that certain topics are really resonating and driving more leads than others, it may provide you with insight into what additional content to create.

Note that businesses with longer sales cycles will need a more robust set of content marketing tools to accurately gauge the effectiveness of content, like Curata or Percolate.

Keyword Research

But what if you don’t have a wealth of existing content to analyze and get inspired from?

That’s where Keyword Research comes into play. Some of you have never done keyword research in your lives, while others have only done rudimentary searches using Google Suggest or Google’s Keyword Planner.

It’s time to get serious about this, folks.

Keyword Research is how you’ll know, before you write an article, that there’s going to be actual interest in that topic.

If you’ve been following me online for a while, you’re no doubt familiar with my reputation. But for those of you whom I haven’t met, perhaps it’s time to pause for a moment and introduce myself.

I’m Mike Allton, and I love to blog. I have a real gift and passion for writing, and love to blog about content marketing in particular. Over the years, I have particularly enjoyed writing about breaking news topics in the social media space, and have also used my blog to share and talk about live video events.

Once I was on a Hangout with Jeff Sieh, Stephan Hovnanian, Les Dossey and Wade Harman. During the broadcast I was taking notes in Evernote and so, shortly after it was over, I was able to publish a blog post that had the HOA embedded along with show notes.

My reputation for being able to blog, even during a live interview, was born.

Now that you know a little more about me, let’s get back to keyword research and why it’s critical for your blogging strategy that you flawlessly execute this tactic.

Unless you love to blog, like me, you are not going to be interested in wasting your time writing about topics that your audience might not be interested in.

You need to make sure that virtually every post your write, every piece of content that you create, has a real purpose that has been researched and identified. Is it solving a problem? Are there people actively looking for this information?

How do you know?

Keyword Research.

Keyword research is the study of which keywords are being used in search engines to find information, and the subsequent analysis of that data.

In other words, it’s our attempt to predict whether a piece of content will gain interest and traffic from search engines based on what people have been looking for in the past.

Before deciding on a particular topic to write about, it’s therefore smart to do some digging and see what kinds of topics are getting a good volume of searches each and every month. At the same time, we’ll want to look at how much competition there is for those keywords, and avoid those that are too competitive.

Facebook, for instance, gets tons of searches every month, but also is mentioned on a gazillion sites, so there’s virtually no chance your blog about “Facebook” is going to rank. “Facebook Authorship” on the other hand, is far less competitive (as evidenced by me being able to get not one but two articles ranked in the top spots for that term). But is anyone searching on that phrase? Not a lot.

Therefore there needs to be a balance between interest and competition. Over at SiteSell where I’m the CMO, we talk about this a lot because we have a tool specifically designed to help identify the potential for a specific keyword based on the level of interest and competition it faces.

Keyword research is about more than just looking up specific phrases though, since that’s inherently limited by your own imagination. It also needs to have an element of discoverability. A way for you to explore other keyword possibilities beyond what you can think of and research yourself.

Google Suggest is a fun place to start. Just head over to google.com and start typing in a phrase like “How to” and let Google’s autocomplete finish the sentence. (Not sure why “How to get away with murder” was so prominently suggested, Google.)

To get serious about keyword research though, you’re going to need tools to help you measure, explore, and track keywords over time. I’ve assembled a list of the best keyword research tools that you can review.

Where Are You Blogging

Once you’ve identified your target audience, the stages of your sales cycle, and the topics of interest to your audience, it’s time to consider your blogging platform.

Back in the 1800’s, when the United States was developing what we now have as modern day political campaigning, candidates for office recognized the need to travel to different communities and speak to large groups of people, but there were no theatres or auditoriums or stadiums. Candidates literally had to bring their stage with them, usually just a flatbed wagon drawn by horses.

That’s why, to this day, the issues and positions that define a candidate are referred to as his or her platform.

But fast forward to the 21st century, and now everyone has access to a virtual stage and microphone. Their platforms consist of contacts and followers.

As Michael Hyatt, bestselling author of “Platform, Get Noticed In A Noisy World” explains, “In other words, a platform is your tribe. People who share your passion and want to hear from like-minded people.”

That means that today, your blogging platform doesn’t refer to what CMS your blog is running on. It refers to the community that you’re building around your blog.

Oh, your website and blog and certainly a key component of that. But so are your social profiles, email lists, and the online groups you choose to build and engage with.

Martin Shervington has been saying for years how important it is to build community, and he’s right. Content is King, and Community is your Kingdom. It’s where you develop relationships and authority.

And since that is true, it therefore follows that you must craft your content to support that platform. It requires awareness of intent, and awareness of consumption. Both of which I’ll explain.

Awareness of intent refers to making sure that you are constantly mindful of the community that you’re building around your brand and business.

A great example of this is blogging frequency. How often and how regular are you blogging? If you have been publishing a blog post every Sunday (as David Amerland does so well with his Sunday Reads), you instill in your community an expectation that you will continue to publish content on that same weekly schedule indefinitely. It becomes something many will look forward to, and feel real abandonment should you ever miss a date.

I, on the other hand, have never held to a specific publishing schedule for more than two weeks, so I have set no expectations which could be left unmet. But that also means I miss out on the potential for some followers to be actively looking for my content on a scheduled basis.

Other examples of being aware of intent include being mindful of the topics you write about, the style of your writing, and other elements which make you and your content uniquely you.

Change one of those elements, and you risk jarring your audience and community, like removing a support from your platform. If carefully considered, the results might prove to be overwhelmingly positive. But if done without care, it could be devastating.

Awareness of consumption refers to how and where your audience gets your content. This could refer to your blog, literally, or to other platforms you might use to communicate like LinkedIn Pulse, Medium, or Facebook Notes. It might refer to your social media profiles, email lists, or online groups and communities.

It can also refer to devices and presentation. Mobile usage is growing daily, so that’s an excellent example of an area where businesses and bloggers need to be aware of consumption and respond accordingly.

Beyond the technical aspects of something like mobile friendliness, I’m interested in the content itself that you’re writing. While you can write articles and content that are for everyone, regardless of where they’re consuming them or where the articles are written, having that keen awareness and insight into your audience has the potential to make your content that much more rich and effective.

Take this post, for instance. I wrote it knowing full well that it was to be published on the PlusYourBusiness.com blog, and not my own, and that it would be shared most prominently with and for the Plus Your Business! Community. If you go back and look through the examples and comments above, you’ll no doubt note references to this site, community and platform that are intended to make the post more relatable to the reader.

The targeted reader. A reader of the Plus Your Business! site and member of the Google+ community.

You see, clearly “blogging” doesn’t have to refer to the creation of content for your own blog. It can be writing for other people’s blogs, writing on third-party “outposts” like LinkedIn, or even writing long-form posts on social media.

You can blog wherever your audience is and wherever you feel that particular piece of content, that voice, can have the most impact.
That’s Strategic Blogging. And it’s a been a pleasure to share with you the blocking and tackling needed to make your blogging effective. I hope you’ve gained further insight into how to improve your blog, and I certainly welcome your questions and comments. Please consider joining any of the conversations already taking place on Google+ and elsewhere around shares of this post.