Corporate Blog Guidelines: Best Practices from the Fortune 500
A majority of enterprise companies now have corporate blogs—54% according to a recent study. With most large companies having adopted blogging into their long term strategy, it may be wise for your business to do the same.
However, starting an effective corporate blog isn’t as simple as it seems. Not only does the content need to be engaging, it must also accomplish corporate blog objectives such as branding, thought leadership, and lead generation. To make the process of establishing a corporate blog—or getting yours up to industry standard—easier, I list below the six corporate blog guidelines every business should follow:
Build a strong technical foundation
Establish the brand voice
Place transactional keywords in article titles
Use engaging visual elements
Create a network of internal links
Post frequently and consistently
We’ll now take a closer look at each of these guidelines, with supporting examples from Fortune 500 companies.
Build a Strong Technical Foundation
In theory, setting up a blog is easy, but this is also where a lot of businesses go wrong. Starting with a solid technical foundation will help you avoid issues that may be harder to solve in the future, as well as allow you to track the results of your efforts. Before you start writing, you should:
- Resolve existing technical issues
- Establish the blog’s permanent location on your site
Resolve existing technical issues
Before your blog can be established, your web developer should perform an evaluation of your website for speed, security, mobile usability, and broken pages or links. It’s generally much harder to resolve issues after the fact, and failing to do so can mean that potential leads don’t reach your sales team.
If you’re using a web development firm rather than an in-house web developer, share your blog’s objectives with them so they can think through the website’s setup and tracking tools. For example, when setting up traffic tracking for the blog, certain platforms are more sophisticated than others, and certain platforms may even be too feature-rich for your needs. A thoughtful web developer should be able to discuss the various options available to each of your objectives, listing the pros and cons of every option.
Establish the Blog’s Permanent Location on Your Site
It’s generally much harder to move a blog to a new location on your site than it is to build a new blog from scratch. The options include:
- Subdirectory: The blog is located on the main website and is viewed by search engines as part of the site. This is the best way to bring organic traffic to the blog because Google confers the main site’s authority upon the blog. General Electric is one company that uses a subdirectory for their blog, and it’s easily reachable from their main page. A subdirectory’s URL looks like: website.com/blog
- Subdomain: The blog is located on the main website, but is essentially its own separate section. Search engines treat it as its own website, so it’s easy to track traffic and user interactions solely on the blog. However, the blog does not receive the benefit of Google conferring the authority of the main site upon the blog. Intel uses a subdomain for their blogs, which has existed long enough to have built its own authority with Google. A subdomain URL looks like this: blog.website.com
- Separate website: Some businesses create blogs on entirely separate websites. The main reason to do this is to establish a distinct brand that is trusted by your audience like a news website as opposed to a commercial entity. Logitech had a separate website about video conferencing news that supported its video conferencing division.
Once you’ve determined a home for your blog, the next step is to establish your brand’s voice.
Establish the Brand Voice
Your brand’s voice should speak to the customers you want to reach. The most successful corporate blogs:
- Know their core audience and how to reach out to them
- Tailor the tone and reading level of their content to this core audience
Know your Core Audience
Start by considering the ideal audience for your corporate blog. Most businesses want to attract people near the bottom of the sales funnel—those who are ready to buy right now and only need a little more information to make a final decision. Some also target people who are in the middle of the funnel: visitors who are comparing brands, looking for reviews, or seeking solutions to problems. Targeting a broader audience is fine, as long as you’re prepared to create longer-form content such as white papers and case studies to hold the attention of a customer who is further away from the moment of buying.
One example of a Fortune 500 company that really understands its audience is IBM. The company manages 27 different blogs, each targeting different niche audiences and needs:
IBM’s many blogs fall into 5 basic subcategories: PR pieces, direct sales blogs, customer support, independent research, and general brand awareness.
- PR: Public relation-style blog posts read like news stories but feature IBM products prominently. Blogs like this are common, but aren’t useful for generating new visitors or leads, as the content is heavily branded. Someone searching for a brand name already knows about the product.
- Sales: Sales blog posts position IBM as a solution to an industry pain point. For example, in this article, IBM discusses ways that manufacturers can use IoT to improve their quality and yields, and ends with a clear call to action to put interested readers in touch with IBM’s sales team. This type of blog works best for potential buyers at the bottom of the sales funnel, as opposed to those at the stage of looking for information or discussion on a topic.
- Customer support: Part of what makes the IBM blog so effective is that it has an entire category dedicated to resolving troubleshooting issues and pointing out security vulnerabilities. These customer support pieces can help relieve strain on a company’s support team as they provide specific solutions to problems customers have. This type of blog is great for two purposes: (1) SEO, as long as the article titles contain the keywords potential customers type in when they have these problems; and (2) distribution through e-mail or social media to current followers of the brand.
- Independent research: IBM practices thought leadership with many of its research-focused blogs. The company conducts its own studies or asks subject matter experts to write blogs on complex topics. This type of blogging reinforces their industry leadership and is perfect for both distribution to current customers and publication on the blog with keywords in the titles to attract new customers.
- Brand building: IBM publishes a number of forward-looking blog posts designed to get readers thinking deeply the future of technology. These posts aren’t directly sales focused, but increase people’s impression of IBM as a global innovator. The more IBM’s bloggers participate in industry discussions on trends and other hot button issues, the more likely executives will be to remember the brand when they need to carry out a major technological shift in their organization. These kinds of blog posts are best for visitors at the top of the sales funnel, in that way, they’re really playing the long game. Therefore, expect to see lower conversion rates from them.
Tailor your Tone and Reading Level to Your Core Audience
The tone a corporate blog should use depends on its core audience, blog objectives, and branding. While irreverence isn’t often something associated with a corporate blog, it’s often tempting to write blogs that are so safe that they’re boring to read. Overall, think about who you’re writing for: are your clients engineers who’ll appreciate a rigorous case study, or are they busy executives who want something more skimmable? And remember that they’re human beings sitting at a desk, thinking about how to solve problems but also the other things in their lives. The best blogs have anecdotes and other forms of relatability in addition to formality and gravitas.
IBM’s blog falls somewhere between the two extremes. They don’t dumb down the language, and are comfortable using jargon that they know other professionals understand. But for certain blogs, like the ones published more for PR purposes, their language is friendlier to a casual reader.
While the exact tone you should use will depend on your audience and industry, I can boil it down to two things:
- Write as simply as possible without insulting your audience’s intelligence
- Use language that your audience will recognize and feel included by, even if it means excluding others.
Now that you know how to write for your audience, the next step is using the right keywords to reach them so your blog can do double duty as both readable and findable on Google.
Place Transactional Keywords in Article Titles
Having a corporate blog is virtually meaningless without an effective keyword strategy. Google relies on keywords in article titles (which automatically become meta titles in content management systems) to determine which websites should rank on the first page of search results.
I’ve seen some smaller businesses outrank Fortune 500 companies in the same industry simply because the smaller business understood how to target keywords for SEO.
To give a blog post the best shot at ranking highly in search results:
- Identify transactional keywords
- Use the keyword in the article’s title
Identify Transactional Keywords
One of the most important goals of most corporate blogs is to generate leads. To do so, blogs need to target keywords. The most valuable keywords are transactional keywords, words that indicate the searcher is actively looking for a service or product.
Putting transactional keywords in your titles is one of the easiest ways to get an edge with your blog. Often, Fortune 500 blogs will pick keywords that, while relevant to their industry, are not transactional. For example, Caterpillar created a blog post to rank for the keyword phrase, “safety culture in the workplace.” Their intent is to boost interest in their safety consulting division. However, someone searching this phrase isn’t likely to be looking for new products or services. Instead, they should have targeted a keyword like “workplace safety consulting,” the word “consulting” being a clear indication that the searcher is looking for a consulting service.
Use the Keyword in the Title
The intact keyword must appear in the title and meta title, ideally at the front. This serves two functions:
- Google can crawl the page and its algorithm can place it in the search results for that longtail keyword.
- Visitors will see the keyword they searched for on the results page and are more likely to click because the title matches their search term.
In the Caterpillar example above, they used the title “Creating a Safety Culture Workplace,” which is short, to the point, and includes their chosen keyword (lack of transactionality aside). It also appears in full on Google search results, so a searcher can see exactly what the article is about before they click.
Once you’re targeting the right keywords to bring visitors to your blog, great visual elements will capture their attention and make sure they read what you’ve written.
Use Engaging Visual Elements
If readers see a wall of text, they’re less likely to read through an entire post, even if it’s relatively short. Formatting and graphics help their eyes move down the page. They also show that the business spent time and effort on the blog instead of throwing content up on the website as an afterthought.
Two of the visual corporate blog guidelines I like to follow are:
- Use formatting to make content skimmable
- Create custom images to illustrate complex concepts
Use Formatting to Make Content Skimmable
This blog post you are reading now is long and detailed. To help readers get through it all, I’ve broken everything up into color-coded sections and used screenshots to help illustrate each point. My goal was to make a set of corporate blog guidelines readers could skim through and get tons of useful information from, even if they’re on a tight schedule (as most C-suite folks are). To make content more skimmable, use:
- Bulleted and numbered lists
- Bold headings and subheadings
- At least one header image or icon at the very top
- Charts and tables
- Short paragraphs
- Short, punchy sentences
- Custom photos, graphics, gifs, videos, and other images
Keep in mind though that some visual elements aren’t appropriate for a corporate blog. Avoid using stock gifs, for example, because they can make pages load slower and look messy. Instead, creating custom images is a great way to make your blog stand out in the industry.
Create Custom Images to Stand Out
I recommend that you always create a unique custom image to use as the header image of your blog posts. These images are the first thing a visitor sees when they visit your blog. It’s your earliest opportunity to grab their attention, and let them know exactly what to expect when they start reading. It needs to be interesting and original, and tell them that they’re about to read something they can’t get anywhere else.
Google is known for its engaging custom illustrations. It incorporates them into everything from its main search bar to its industry blogs. For example, its Ads and Commerce blog features incredible illustrations that help make the blog visually distinct:
These visuals also help them explain complex marketing topics to their visitors. Their blog frequently features custom gifs that show readers how various marketing techniques work without requiring that they click on a separate video.
The last step before you publish is making sure that you’re using internal links to direct visitors to other pages they’d be interested in.
Create a Network of Internal Links
One of the most overlooked blog practices is internal linking. I’ve seen some beautiful corporate blogs that have high quality content and engaging graphics—but not a single internal link to be found. Internal linking improves search engine rankings and helps visitors navigate the blog. You should:
- Link frequently and consistently
- Use container keywords as a guideline
- Build pillar pages to act as comprehensive hubs
Link Frequently and Consistently
Internal linking is a key factor in Google algorithm rankings, accounting for an estimated 8% of the total algorithm weight. Corporate blogs need a minimum of three internal links per blog post. I aim for 3-5 internal links per 1,500-word blog post on average, and more for longer pieces.
These links should be natural. Forcing a link in somewhere it doesn’t belong will make your content harder to read, and lose your reader’s trust. And Google will penalize articles stuffed with too many links, dropping their ranking. Imagine internal links as salt in a dish: add a pinch here or there but don’t go overboard.
Use Container Keywords as a Guideline
What businesses link to is just as important as how many times they link. To get visitors to click to different posts on the blog or to various landing pages, be strategic about which links they put in front of readers.
The best way to find the perfect links for every blog post is to track all of the keywords you target in a spreadsheet or a mind map like the one below:
The broad container keywords are represented by the thicker lines in the map. The more targeted transactional variations are represented by slimmer lines attached to the containers. Finding posts and pages to link to is simply a matter of looking at the map, seeing which keywords or pages connect to the keyword used in the blog post, then linking to pieces that use those related keywords. It’s a natural and intuitive way to show visitors other pages they’ll find interesting.
Build Pillar Pages to Act as Comprehensive Hubs
Once they’ve written extensively about a single topic, businesses can also create pillar pages that target its container keyword. These pages serve as a complete guide, linking to everything they’ve published. Pillar pages help visitors navigate a website, and tend to rank highly on Google because they’re such comprehensive pages. And because the pillar page ranks highly, Google also assigns more trust to the pages they link to.
Fortune 500 companies often use pillar pages to direct visitors. Let’s look at Caterpillar again. They have a sleek pillar page that offers construction business tips to their customer base.
When visitors click on each of the categories, they get a short blurb explaining the concept along with a link to a blog post that goes into more detail:
This gives visitors a single place to look to find everything Caterpillar’s created about “construction business tips.” When you build an excellent pillar page, it becomes a resource for your potential clients, giving them reasons to keep visiting your website and building your authority.
Now that I’ve explained what keywords to target, how to write great content, and how a thoughtful linking strategy improves your visibility and user experience, the last step is to do all of that regularly and often.
Post Frequently and Consistently
Posting frequency is just as important as the quality of the posts themselves. To dominate an industry’s search results, businesses need to post blog articles at a consistent pace: at least two per week. Businesses who post less frequently won’t see the returns that more regularly updated blogs generate.
- Post as often as possible
- Maintain a consistent schedule
Post as Often as Possible
SalesForce operates one of the most consistent marketing news blogs in the industry. They post at least once a day, sometimes even multiple times per day. However, to avoid overwhelming their audience, they spread these posts out across various blog categories and topics, like AI adoption or customer service best practices.
Businesses don’t have to post multiple times per day to be successful, but they should aim for at least two blog posts per week. This is the minimum required to see significant search ranking improvements, as this activates Google’s news site bonus.
Maintain a Consistent Schedule
One common mistake I see businesses make is that they’ll start off with a strong and consistent posting schedule and then let it fall by the wayside after a few weeks or months. If they don’t have a staff of full-time writers, they may bring in other members of their team to write the blog. These folks often have other important projects and new blog posts get pushed off week after week.
Businesses can’t make up for lost time. I don’t recommend posting every single day for a few months, skipping a few weeks of content, and then returning to posting daily for a few more weeks. Instead, maintain a consistent schedule that your writers can handle. If your team produces extra content one week, save the less time sensitive articles for a week when they fall short. It’s also important to have a backup plan in case a blogger calls in sick.
The Easiest Way to Follow These Corporate Blog Guidelines
Understanding these guidelines is one thing, but implementing them on a consistent, long term basis can be a challenge. One thing I’ve learned from studying Fortune 500 blogs is that knowledge of the industry is only a small part of the corporate blogging process. Even with subject matter experts on staff, some Fortune 500 companies struggle to post quality, engaging content on a regular basis or neglect important B2B marketing best practices.
That’s why many midsize and enterprise companies rely on third party experts to maintain their blogs. Outsourcing this process allows their team to focus on their core business activities. Instead of having to train and staff an entire content marketing team in house, they work with a content marketing agency who already understands these corporate blog guidelines.
If you’d like to learn more about working with our Bay Area-based content marketing agency, contact us.
Evan Bailyn is a bestselling author and award-winning speaker on the subjects of SEO and thought leadership. Contact Evan here.