Does blogging work as an effective lead generation tool?
Many businesses have opted to publish blog articles and other content on a regular basis, but really, what’s the point? Is blogging a valid tool in your marketing arsenal? Or is it just a time suck – vanity publishing and drivel with little or no genuine business return?
There’s nothing more powerful than hearing the story from a seemingly ordinary business that’s really made it work. Here’s a blogging and content marketing success story from one small expert business.
Ascentor is a specialist 12 person consultancy based in Gloucester. They help organisations stay safe through information risk management – and equip suppliers to deliver projects and bid for contracts more successfully.
The Ascentor team has published 140 blog articles since 2011, as well as a well-stocked resources library with an array of deeper content items such as board papers, research findings and infographics. They send out a quarterly email newsletter which acts as a digest of their recent content and gives another opportunity for articles to be read. They stick to a schedule of around two blogs a month and produce a review of our industry each year as well as predictions for the year ahead.
This content-based marketing approach has proved to be a smart business development strategy. Ascentor’s content efforts are driving enviable sales results (and some unexpected benefits) as MD Dave James and his marketing consultant Ben Wheeler explain in this article.
“Marketing with valuable content has greatly increased our brand awareness. Now people are coming to us instead of us always going to them. We’re seeing loads of inbound enquiries, 24 in the last month. The work on our content over the past 7 years has created the awareness and momentum that generates the level of enquiries we get today.” Dave James, MD, Ascentor
I should say that Ascentor was a client of ours at the start of their blogging journey. Alongside Marketing Strategist Bryony Thomas of Watertight Marketing we helped Dave and the team with their positioning, website and content marketing strategy back in 2011 and 2012. Ben is an Accredited Consultant with Watertight Marketing and has continued the content-led strategy, working with Ascentor since 2014.
So, seven years of blogging later, what’s happened for Ascentor’s business? And what ideas can you take for your business from their journey?
The results for Ascentor
Dave James, MD and founder of Ascentor explains the backstory and benefits.
Q: Why did you start blogging in the first place?
MD Dave James gives the backstory:
“When we started blogging and sharing content it was the first time we had anything like a marketing strategy. Prior to this we’d used our network of contacts to get us new business but that can only work so far. With a growing number of cyber attacks against UK organisations we needed a way to get Ascentor’s message out, and be a part of the wider conversation in information security. At the same time we realised that information security was often seen as as a ‘techy solution’.
We needed to find a way to position it as an issue that affected all the business, not just a function of the IT department. We didn’t have a marketing department so, through blogging and sharing valuable content, we saw a way of reaching a potentially far bigger audience.
This was in 2011. We’ve come a long way since then.”
Q: What’s the state of play now? What results are you seeing for the business?
“Seven years on and we’re seeing loads and loads of inbound enquiries! We saw 24 inbound enquiries last month – that’s a huge amount for a small business like ours. And the majority are good leads too. As a result we massively over-achieved on our sales targets last year, and this year looks like it’s going to be a fantastic one for Ascentor too.
These results come from a combination of our content marketing efforts, and from face-to-face networking. When we started the vast majority of our leads came via networking and referrals, and now it’s about 50:50, networking-inspired leads vs. content-inspired leads.
“Seven years on and we’re seeing loads and loads of inbound enquiries!”
The two business development strategies are interlinked. Our blogs help Ascentor consultants demonstrate subject matter authority with clients and prospects. We also go to trade shows and often create documents containing our blog articles to give to delegates. We publish on LinkedIn Pulse too, which is a good way to repurpose blog content within the LinkedIn community. Our blogs also appear on a specialist cyber security website and they also share our content via social media which again helps with visibility for the Ascentor brand.”
Q: Any surprising benefits from your content efforts?
“Yes, our blogging efforts actively helped us win a very large bid for the MoD. Because of our blog, we scored highly for innovation – for sharing our knowledge openly – and this differentiated us from our competitors. This was an unexpected bonus.”
“Our blogging efforts actively helped us win a very large bid for the MoD.”
Q: Why does publishing your ideas work so well do you think?
“Each month Ben our marketing consultant prepares a marketing report for me based on Google Analytics data and sales enquiries. We’ve seen some really impressive results from our content efforts.
1. We get found via search. In the first year, having started blogging regularly, we saw a 400% increase in website traffic. In January 2018, we received 85% of site visits as a result of being found in organic searches and this is almost all down to the blog.
One reason for this success is because we rank very highly for certain niche terms that we’ve addressed through our content. For some niche topics we appear on the front page of Google in between the UK Govt and Wikipedia! With over 140 published blog articles, the effect it’s had on us being found in organic searches has been huge in terms of driving people to our website. To put this into context, of our top 25 landing pages, all but two are blog articles – and this is pretty much consistent throughout the year.
“It gives me great satisfaction to find that we are consistently on the first page of Google for our key search terms. The work over the past 7 years has created the awareness and momentum that generates the level of enquiries we get today.”
2. Our content extends our reach and awareness. Certain blogs have really taken off. Our highest read blog exceeds 27,000 views – and four have had over 10,000 views. Blogs that address a specific issue tend to do very well e.g. specific questions re GDPR. Another that has worked very well is simply ‘What’s the difference between cyber security and information assurance’. That blog has received over 18,000 views and regularly attracts between 100 – 150 views a day.
3. It’s cost effective marketing. Ascentor pays nothing for any form of PPC or Adwords. Aside from the the time it takes to produce and share our content, the blog creates free inbound traffic. Our content is out there working for us 24×7.
4. We get a raft of warm inbound sales enquiries. This is in a large part down to the reach of our content and the strength of our website. People have contacted me asking for a proposal quoting specific articles they’ve seen. This has been the case recently with our coverage of security issues around GDPR.
5. Our content opens doors and makes for great sales follow up. The content helps our sales effort in many ways. As well as generating inbound leads it also fuels our outbound sales process. The guides, research and blogs all help to engage prospects and add weight to our proposals and bids.
6. Our content builds credibility and trust with clients and prospects. Our content helps hugely with credibility – especially in areas like defence where we rank alongside the MOD on page 1 of Google for similar terms. And, as it’s all organic content, not appearing as sponsored, that would support its trustworthiness too. The sales enquiries we get through our content are warmed up by our content, which makes for easier conversations and a higher likelihood of closing the sale.
For a 12-person, niche business-to-business consultancy, these are impressive results. Content really powers up our business development activities.”
How Ascentor has made content marketing work
Q: What did you do to get started?
“It all started with a good look at ourselves. We realised that our website needed a total overhaul – it was previously a static site with limited information and an awful lot of jargon. It wasn’t the reader-friendly experience that would engage our audience and lead to sales.
We wanted to educate our target audience about the potential business risks associated with information security. So our content would need to answer the questions our audience were asking – and that audience could be everyone from directors at board level in a big corporate to users in SMEs, and from Government departments to the MoD.”
Q: How did you reposition Ascentor’s message?
“Getting the message right was an important starting point. To get this clear and set our content in context, we began by talking to our clients. We wanted to understand clarify their needs and create a compelling proposition: a unifying story to unite around. This early stage client research was vital to help us create a website and content that is client-focused, not self-absorbed like many websites are.
We had to really break down what we do so that we could communicate more clearly what we offer. We realised we were there to help people de-risk their IT projects, making the organisation more resilient to cyber attacks, ultimately to make them more secure.
Through this process we created a very positive strapline – Secure your information: strengthen your business. Ours is a very pragmatic and business focused approach to cyber security and information assurance challenges. This business-focused thread continues to underpin our brand message and content strategy.
We developed a new, content-rich website that would meet the needs of each of our client groups.
Looking back, without doubt the most effective part of this website was the blog. It gave us the platform to take our message to a much wider audience and educate the market on a regular basis.”
Q: How do you keep up a consistent flow of new content?
“Keeping the content going has been a team effort, but that’s worked well for several reasons. Information security spans a number of disciplines and we each write on the topics we know – so most of our content comes from within the business. It has also helped get everyone on the same page when it comes to marketing, especially when we started to see the viewing numbers and the visibility it’s brought us.
Keeping a blog going takes commitment and, as our business has grown we’ve been helped by our marketing consultant, Ben Wheeler, who acts as our content editor – taking some of our ideas and turning them into full blogs, as well as bringing his own ideas to the table.
Ben has worked with us for a number of years now. He understands what we want to say. He sources ideas and writes some articles, editing and honing the ones we write. This really takes the pressure off and keeps Ascentor’s content engine running.”
Q: What content has worked particularly well over the years?
Marketing consultant Ben Wheeler explains:
“Some of our best performing posts have been ready made answers to business critical problems. We pick a topic and do a deep dive into a single issue – so the reader can, even from the title, understand what the value will be.
A good example is GDPR – a hot topic right now. We realised that the role of the Data Protection Officer would be an issue that almost all organisations would need to resource, but we couldn’t find an article addressing this. Our solution had what I call a ‘Ronseal’ headline ‘GDPR: Do you really need a Data Protection Officer (DPO)?’. It answered exactly what it said it would on the tin. To date, this has been one of Ascentor’s most read posts and is always on the front page of Google for the term ‘Data Protection Officer’. Published in June 2017, it’s now had over 18,000 views (mid April 2018) and created a number of inbound GDPR related sales enquiries.
I’ve been impressed by Ascentor’s ability to put a humorous, entertaining slant on some of their articles. Information security can be seen as a ‘dry’ or serious topic – after all, what is funny about data loss or the threat of regulatory fines? So, when I see blog articles such as ‘Could the new OFFICIAL classification be your ‘50 Shades of Grey’? – I have to hand it to them. Humour wouldn’t work all the time, you wouldn’t want to trivialise the topic – but it can sometimes be that extra ingredient in attracting the reader who won’t necessarily be expecting it.
That blog came from one of the Directors who also happens to be a great writer and that’s been another payback from blogging – it can be an enjoyable process that gets people on board with marketing.”
“Another payback from blogging – it can be an enjoyable process that gets people on board with marketing.”
Q: What’s not working so well?
“As with most forms of marketing, measuring success isn’t an exact science. While we know that organic search produces 85% of web traffic, and the blogs are a huge part of this, identifying which ones are turning into actual business is a challenge. Sometimes a client will say they found Ascentor because of a particular piece of content but regardless of being able to identify a lead or not via a particular blog the inbound enquiries remain consistent so we know it’s working.”
Q: What’s next for Ascentor’s content?
“We are writing more client case studies where possible – although information security clients don’t always want their security issues to be made public so it can be a challenge. We also have a white paper soon to launch so will be promoting that in exchange for email data. In fact capturing better customer data will be an important part of the new site, but with GDPR coming the process must be compliant with the new regulation on consent.”
Content marketing tips for other expert businesses
Dave James gives his advice for other businesses wanting to get their content working to drive sales.
1. Don’t be scared
“In a technical industry like ours, particularly in our security-focused world, it can feel scary thinking of giving knowledge and ideas away.”
Talking about what we do takes a real cultural and mindset shift. But at the end of the day it’s only talking to people in a different medium.”
2. Take a long term view
“Adopting blogging as a marketing strategy required a leap of faith at the start. For anyone looking for instant results, blogging isn’t for them. You have to be persistent, take a long term view and be consistent.”
3. Get expert outside help
“You need the right team alongside you. We certainly had outside help and I’d definitely recommend that.
Working with Valuable Content gave us a strategic view and helped us to clarify the needs of our target market by talking to our clients and creating a compelling proposition and website. They also taught us the importance of getting key themes in place. This made it much easier to plan our content – and much easier for our clients to grasp what we do. If the content suggested underpinned one of these themes we used it; if not, we didn’t. They helped us get clear on what we wanted to say.
Our marketing consultant Ben Wheeler has been a great help. He’s an intuitive content writer and keeps the strategy running. He helps create and share our content and brings fresh ideas to the table each month. Most important of all, he saves us a huge amount of time and makes sure that our marketing, messaging, and visibility remain on-track.”
4. Investing in a good website goes without saying
“Our website runs on WordPress and the blog has a presence on the homepage where we preview latest articles which link through to the full blog. But writing the blog content is only the start of the process. It’s important to end each with a clear call to action and also to be rigorous in how you set-up the blogs in terms of SEO.
The current Ascentor website is soon to be replaced by a brand new one. The brief to our designers is to create a welcoming home for Ascentor’s content where it’s even easier to find, and also to make the site more engaging. We want readers to stay and find out more after they have read what first attracted them to the site. We’re excited about this.”
5. Set a sustainable pace
“When we started we convinced ourselves that we could publish at a rate of 4 blogs and 1 newsletter a month. This rhythm just wasn’t sustainable.”
6. Bring people inside the business with you
“This takes time, and not everyone will get onboard with your content drive at the start. You have to win people over over time. It helps when people see that the strategy is driving sales success. You can’t argue with the numbers we’re achieving now, and the revenue it’s bringing in!”
7. Create a sharing strategy within the business
“We have a systemised sharing strategy in place too. We post to LinkedIn, we use Twitter, Google + and every time a new piece of content is produced, we email everyone in the business to ask them to help by sharing the post via their channels and networks. Given the the amount of content out there now, it’s easy to be lost in all the noise so we make the most of our content by sharing it several times. An email newsletter also helps to remind those that may have missed it.”
8. Create deeper content and a newsletter alongside the blogs
“Although they may take longer to produce, I’d also recommend producing guides and deeper content, original research and case studies. They all help to emphasise expertise, build trust and, through the value and quality of our content, reassure clients about working with us. And the newsletter ensures we keep front of mind with our contacts.”
9. Don’t give up
“When you’re busy running a business and serving clients it’s hard to devote time to creating content and keep up the consistency but it’s so worth it. It’s all coming good for us – the pigeons have definitely come home to roost for Ascentor!”
A well deserved Golden Valuable Content Award for Ascentor!
Wow – what a journey it’s been for Ascentor, and it’s so fabulous to hear the results the blog articles and content is driving. Definitely valuable content, I’m sure you’ll agree.
Congratulations to Dave James and the team, and to Ben Wheeler for making this strategy work so well. A couple of golden Valuable Content Award badges are winging their way to you. Keep up the great work!
- Find out more about Ascentor’s information risk management services
- More about Ben Wheeler and his Watertight Marketing services here
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- Unmissable marketing lessons from Hinge Marketing’s High Growth Study – Ascentor’s strategy reflects many of the choices made by other high growth firms around the world.