September 06, 2006
Can business marketers use the blog world to get more site traffic from highly targeted prospects? Yes, it is possible.
Here's the real-life story of a business software firm that tested four specific tactics to increase its inbound blog traffic:
Like many niche B-to-B marketers, David Aferiat's first online marketing efforts focused around search engine optimization. "We were relentless, optimizing every page of the site for SEO."
His team's efforts were rewarded. The firm, which offers analytical software for professional hedge fund traders, began to get significant rankings and traffic for extremely targeted terms such as 'Fibonacci Retracement.’
As Aferiat studied his Web analytics reports to see which terms pulled the best targeted traffic, he was startled to notice something else. Although search engines dominated his traffic sources, a smaller slice of visitors who converted fairly well were coming from blogs.
He wondered, was there a way to get more of that targeted blog traffic?
Aferiat knew the types of people -- often consultants and other self-proclaimed experts -- who tend to participate in online communities such as bulletin boards and forums are also often themselves bloggers.
In the past he'd experimented (naively) with online networking by posting comments about the glory of his company's software on related bulletin boards and online forums. It had proven to be a disastrous mistake.
"Some people were delighted to hear about us, but some were vitriolic." The fact is, any content that smacks of blatant self-promotion can and will offend online communities.
So, when reaching out to bloggers directly, Aferiat needed to be extra-careful not to offend or appear too commercial. The goal was to tap into their enthusiasm for the topic of hedge fund analysis, rather than simply beg for hotlinks:
Tactic #1. Offer bloggers valuable content
Bloggers want to make their blogs more interesting and surf-worthy. So Aferiat's team created four types of content that bloggers might find valuable to either hotlink to or place on their own blogs (link to samples below):
o Content banners -- Instead of banners with offers and ads, Aferiat's team invented banners with valuable content, in this case streaming data related to hedge funds. Bloggers could choose from a variety of sizes to suit their format. They could also customize the banners to just show the types of funds or analysis they specialized in writing about.
o Extensive glossary -- Originally created for search engine optimization, Trade Ideas' glossary featured a fairly long dedicated page of technical information for each individual term.
Aferiat began to promote this free content to bloggers as a way they could hotlink technical terms in their postings to educational content without having to build their own glossary.
o Extensive stock profile -- Again, originally created for SEO, the Trade Ideas site featured static heavy-text content profile pages for each major hedge fund. Aferiat also started promoting these to bloggers as useful links for their posts.
o End-of-day news -- Aferiat created a day-end news feed that bloggers could pick up and add to their blog.
Tactic #2. Build personal relationships
Aferiat combed his Web logs carefully, looking for blogs that sent the site traffic. Then he carefully wrote each a personal email relating to the posting they'd made about the firm -- not a "Dear webmaster" form letter.
"Every new name we go to and say, 'I'm glad you like the tool and do you have any questions about it I could answer?’"
If the blogger sent a steady stream of traffic that converted well, Aferiat upped his response by offering that blogger a complimentary account for the Trade Ideas software. He didn't attach any strings, but hoped the account would encourage the blogger to continue writing about the software.
If the blogger was a real winner, with significant presence in the marketplace and an affinity for the product, Aferiat tried to take the relationship to the next level by taking the relationship beyond email. "I've met the heavy hitters in person. If you want attention you have to get close to them. I'll get on a plane and take them out to breakfast."
In addition, Aferiat and other management team members posted profiles of themselves on popular business networking services such as LinkedIn so potential partners could check them out. He included these profile links in his email SIG and on the company blog (see below).
Important -- Aferiat carefully limited the number of relationships in each system to less than 150 because he believes if you have too many "relationships" in public networking services it becomes less believable.
Tactic #3. Give them hotlinks
Again, remember, most business bloggers are in it because they themselves want to share their passion and expertise with the marketplace. They are not in the game to send traffic to you but rather to get traffic from you.
No problem, Aferiat started a company blog to do precisely that.
Along with regular information-rich postings from Trade Ideas top management, the blog included a list of hotlinks to his favored partner bloggers and a daily hotlinked headline round-up of posts from his favorite blogger sites.
He used SEO to drive traffic to the blog and also posted the blog's newest headlines on the company home page.
Tactic #4. Reward top performers
In addition to free software, Aferiat tested offering top fan bloggers a commission on any traffic they sent (a.k.a. affiliate marketing.) He also made sure they had most-favored-nation status by receiving company updates and new software release info *before* civilians and customers.
After a year of focus on schmoozing the blogging community, 8.2% of Trade Ideas' referred traffic comes from search engines and nearly 90% comes from bloggers. This doesn't represent a drop in total search-generated traffic, but rather an addition from the blog community.
Example, on a typical day this June, 18% of total referring sites were search engines and 71% were bloggers.
Just as with B-to-C affiliate programs, a handful of bloggers drive the lions share of the traffic. In fact 65% of total referred traffic (representing thousands of prospects each day) comes from just five blogs.
32.4% of clicks come from those content-banners and of these 30% convert to starting a trial that can lead to either a site license sale for their entire company or an individual $60 per month account.
27% of referred traffic arrives at the stock profile pages, and 13% at various glossary pages. This traffic doesn't convert quite as well because it's not as directly product related, but still proves offering bloggers a variety of content to hotlink to is worthwhile.
Useful links related to this article:
Creative samples of Trade Ideas' campaigns:
FeedDigest - powers the blogger headline feeds Trade Ideas presents on its own blog
Feedblitz - powers Trade Ideas' blog's outgoing RSS feed
Blogger - powers Trade Ideas' own blog
Market Movers - Trade Ideas' company blog