Blogs Are Libraries, Not Publications

I've written before that content marketers should not make the mistake of treating their blog like a true editorial publication.


Content marketing teams usually don't have the people or the resources to operate like the New York Times, nor should they attempt it. Publications have missions. Blogs—at least ones run by content marketers—are ultimately designed to support other business objectives, i.e. make a return for the company over long period over time.

Getting that return means approaching content with a refined strategy. You can get more for your money if you treat your blog like a continuously growing library of content. So few people read blogs in the same way they used to read a daily paper. Committing to a punishing editorial calendar is actually lazy. It too often means that the people behind it don't really know the audience or the goals for the content. Put the information out there for people whenever they need it, not for now.

Instead, I encourage people to tackle the same topic from different angles over and over again until they've built a hub around that specific topic. I hear a lot of pushback around this ("People don't want to see the same content week after week").

This is a misinterpretation about how people actually read content. Your content marketing program is not the New York Times. People aren't checking it every morning, anxiously waiting for your next post, relying on it for news or entertainment. Content can be those things, but only with a highly refined strategy and a big budget.

Here's a bit of a recent email exchange with Vero CEO Chris Hexton on this exact topic:

Chris: I think that blogging has become hyper-competitive. This doesn’t mean it can’t work: it means that it takes more investment. It follows a standard economic principle1. A more familiar example would be having outbound sales. This was probably very ROI-positive once upon a time, but there are so many people now doing automated outbound emails that there is a lot more noise. Now it can still be successful but requires more upfront investment in a larger team and effort ROI is going to be lower.

Jimmy: I’ve been encouraging people to think of a blog as a library of resources that they contribute to, not a “publication" (unless they have a ton of money).

The new Intercom blog is an outlier. People want to replicate it. (And I can see why.)

Chris: I think that’s a good approach to be honest. The idea of a library being contributed to also forces the content to be very relevant for current customers. It’s a place to dip into "forever more" for quality resources. That idea of "forever more" is what is different here–something like Intercom or a publication like HuffPost needs daily updating.

In fact, in many ways, that may not be sustainable even at that scale! We’ll see.

So for those of us without $115 million in funding, here's a simple framework for treating your blog like a library and getting more from your content.

1. Choose a theme and cover it in-depth

Pick three to five keywords that are close to your revenue source. You want content that you can easily trace to acquisition, otherwise you'll have a hard time making the case for budget, designers, developers, more writers, etc.

Let's say your product has a time tracking feature and you want to write about time management. You can employ the [Persona] + [Use Case] Formula to come up with all kinds of new and interesting ways to write about time management.

First, outline your personas:

  • Management team
  • Team leaders
  • Senior product/developer/marketing people

Then, choose a few use-cases:

  • Get more done
  • Track billable hours
  • Manage your team

Now, mix and match to come up tons of angles to write content:

  • A CEO's Guide to Tracking Billable Hours
  • What Senior Developers Understand About Managing an Effective Team
  • How to Lead a Productive Team and Get Home for Dinner

This is overly simplistic—the best content is nuanced and deep—but you get the idea. You can pair this strategy with a few other ideation tactics to come up with dozens of ways to write about the same topic in new and interesting ways.

2. Employ a simple internal linking strategy

Dwell time is a behavioral metric that correlates well with strong organic rankings. Internal linking can increase pages/visit, session time and lower bounce rate...all indicators to a search algorithm that the site offers value to readers. The thinking goes that if you can increase dwell time, rankings will follow.

A cluster of posts on a single topic lends itself well to an internal linking strategy that supports this. This is a variation of the hub and spoke model that I've blogged about before and now see often in content strategy.

The key here is to place links above and below the content to ensure that a reader has ample opportunities to navigate to more content. You don't need any special development resources to make this happen. Once you create enough content on a topic, create a table of contents for that theme and place links on every post on the topic.

You can get way more sophisticated with this, but it's a good place to start if you've been churning out post after post on different topics.

This isn't the only way to run a blog, but it's one that creates constraints to keep you focused on the desired outcome. Just because blogs generally feature content in reverse chronological order doesn't mean they ought to be run like publications. Big returns require strategic planning, and that's an investment well worth your time.

[1]: Andrew Chen describes this as the law of shitty clickthroughs