WARNING: This blog post contains references to big numbers. Like––really big percent increases that totally won't seem real. And it's all completely achievable for your marketing team.
How's that for a blog post introduction?
At a certain point––I just start to ignore percentages. "Iowa Woman Increases Organic Blog Post Traffic 1,033%" just sounds ridiculous, right!? But it's not.
If you're struggling to gain traction on high-quality blog posts, your content may not be the problem.
You might have a perfectly well-explained, interesting topic that should intrigue your visitors, but just doesn't seem to catch Google's eye.
If that's the case, you need bucket brigades. You need an easy-to-write, easy-to-read way of telling stories in your blog posts that keep readers' attention the entire way down the page. You need keywords, questions, blockquotes, bulletpoints––anything and everything that can help you reader stay focused, absorb your valuable information, and keep those eyes on the page.
Now, let's skip to the good stuff. Here's how bucket brigade formatting worked for us.
Our Success With Bucket Brigades
We weren't brigade perfectionists. We followed much of Brian Dean's advice after finding his post and passing it around the office like a plate of cookies. But we tweaked much of his ideas to our persona research and expanded upon them to match our existing blog style. (For example, you won't notice nearly as many new paragraphs or images in our posts as you will in Brian's.)
We implemented 2 main bucket brigade strategies with the following example posts:
- Much smaller paragraphs than we typically wrote
- Questions and keywords such as, "But why does that matter?," "How?," "Now, let's dive into...," and "The most important thing is..."
- Blockquotes, bright headers, arrows, and visual breakups
- Custom graphics to illustrate our examples or photos to accompany specific analogies
- Longer posts (1,000+ words) with content that dove deeper into a topic than just one slice of the pie
- An SEO refresh on existing pieces to target better keywords (LSI, for the win!)
Here's the success we saw:
Those are increases of 967%, 500%, and 1,033%, respectively on blog posts covering how to create a digital marketing funnel, marketing objectives for a stronger sales funnel, and blog posts in the buyer's journey.
Part of the bucket brigade package is that you are not only aiming to get more views on your posts, but to also increase engagement with the page's content and the time spent on page. Using Google Analytics, we were able to see that when we changed the formating of the posts featured above, we were definitely able to increase the viewers' time spent on each page.
Here are those 3 posts' analytics in the same order as above:
This level of engagement is 2-3x longer than the typical time spent on our blog content!
How to Find Your Brigade-Worthy Posts
As a HubSpot agency, we often sit between a rock and a hard place: We're constantly reading about new marketing strategies to try and consuming case studies we want to emulate. But we also service clients with consistency. We don't like to give them whiplash from always changing up the overall strategy of their marketing efforts or bail on tried-and-true methods before they've really had time to bloom.
But if we've learned one big takeaway from Brian's post and this bucket brigade strategy, it's this:
If your blog posts aren't resonating in organic search after 2-4 months, try something new. Re-read the post youself with fresh eyes, and try to pinpoint exactly where you would leave the page if you were a reader.
- Are the paragraphs too long?
- Did you stuff it with keywords instead of naturally use synonyms and variations?
- Do you use bulletpoints, clear headers, images, graphics, or blockquotes to serve the "skimmers" in your audience?
- Would you share this post with a co-worker or excitedly tell your dog about it as soon as you got home?
These are the questions you can use to identify which posts could benefit from new formatting.
We also searched our archives of old blog posts to see if we had written about the topic before. Rather than having two or three mediocre blog posts about blog posts in the buyer's journey, why not combine all that information into one larger post that needed an SEO boost?
- If you were a new reader, did you actually get value from the post? Or was it all fluff?
- Say you were a Google searcher who came across this post and really wanted to understand the topic. Would you pay $2 or even $5 to read it and get the answers? Was it that helpful?
- Have you already written about the topic? Why did you write about it again?
- Did you add more value to the conversation around this topic? If you were a reader, would you rather see all of that content in one, larger post?
Ask these questions to identify which posts might need a content revamp while you're at it.
Now that you've found a handful of blog posts that you want to test, set clear expectations and goals for how you're changing these posts. What action do you want a reader to take after reading the blog post? Is the topic still a big concern for your target personas?
In short––do these posts still have potential to help you reach your target customers?
How to Optimize and Re-Format Those Posts
If you said, "Yes" to that last question, you've complete phase #1 of your journey.
Now, you'll need to make sure everyone on your team understands the value that comes from testing new formatting so you have the resources and time you need to do it correctly.
If you've been blogging in the same way for months (or even years), you might sense some hesitation from the team to move away from creating new content for a few weeks to re-focus on past content.
Sometimes, we get stuck in our blogging routine and just start pumping out new pieces because we think it's worth our time. We all do it––the SparkReaction team, included. It's only human!
Here are a few positions you can take to help your team understand why bucket brigades and maximizing existing content are so important to inbound marketing:
- The Time Argument: "We've already spent hundreds of hours creating valuable content on our blog. It's still good work, but it needs a facelift to gain more SEO traction. Instead of reinventing the wheel to create new content, we need to update existing pieces that could have just as much potential."
- The Lead/Traffic Argument: "X% of our leads and traffic come from organic search each month. If we doubled-down on the quality of our low-ranking posts, we could maximize this without even creating new pages. We have many pages that could garner even more traffic or conversions if we just tried harder."
- The Proof-Is-In-The-Pudding Argument: "We've seen case studies that show us how much value there is in quality content over quantity content. Let's get our existing posts to A+ status before we create new ones."
Once you have the all-clear to dedicate time to these posts, the possibilities are endless. We'll dive into a few of the strategies we used in the posts featured above––but your audience might want something different.
Trust your persona research, your data, and your human side to bring the most possible value to a reader.
4 Strategies for Increasing Reader Engagement and Time On Page
1. Pump up your visuals.
Bulletpoints, numbered sections, and headers to break up the topic into bite-sized chunks. Free icons like those featured on Flaticon can be lifesavers for those of us who aren't graphic designers by nature, but need a quick, self-sufficient way to add flair to our posts.
2. Use smaller paragraphs.
Think 2-4 sentences at most to relieve your reader of long-windedness or fatigue. No one wants to read your novel. (Actually, I love to read. If you're writing a real novel, can you send me a copy?)
Keep engaging your readers by dropping true bucket brigade questions at any point where they would naturally want to leave the page. See Brian's sticky note to the right for just a few starting examples.
No matter which words you use, remember this:
Encourage them to keep reading. Ask them a question, and then actually provide the answer immediately after. But then propose a new question, and lead them to the next step.
This is Storytelling 101, and you need to capture their attention and keep it. Your formatting should mirror your ability to keep diving further and further into their problem and possible solutions!
4. Create content you'd pay for.
One of the best ways we've found to increase the average time spent on page for a reader is to make our posts meaty, informative, and worthy of taking notes. Make content they don't just want to skim. Dive into the topic on a really granular level, and make them want to share the piece or even leave the piece open as they start to think about how they could apply the information to their own lives.
Tracking Your Progress
Here's the most important part of all of this.
Are you paying attention?
After you've polished a blog post with the strategies above and you truly feel like you've made improvements, put an event on your calendar in 2 months to revisit the analytics and see how it's going. As you'll see from our screenshots above of our HubSpot Sources reports, it took around 2 months for us to start seeing an apparent increase in our organic traffic to those posts.
And now, it's been 6-7 months––at which point, we can see the boosts in organic traffic are sustainable, and the average time on page is predictably higher than most of our other content.
If you're a HubSpot user:
I also suggest making a marketing action in your Sources reports tool with the average conversion of the blog post and its CTAs as it is. You'll be able to look back at the overall views and views from individual sources in the future, but if you update your CTAs or insert any forms directly in the post, you'll only be able to see the current conversion rate in your blog details view.
If you feel like a blog post machine, but your analytics just aren't budging––your content may not be the problem. You could be publishing really interesting, informative posts that your readers enjoy, but only when they aren't distracted.
But you know what it's like to be a human today: We're constantly fielding distractions and triple-tasking. So it's just not reasonable to ask your blog readers to exert too much effort reading long paragraphs and trying to decipher your content without clear guidance.
This is exactly why bucket brigades are so important. You need to lead your readers to the heart of your blog post, answer their questions quickly, and keep their attention for as long as possible.
In turn, you'll increase your average time spent on page, see a boost in organic traffic, and reap the benefits of more organic traffic month-over-month.
Who wouldn't want that?
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