The vast majority of bloggers create a content strategy to guide their work. As they should. After all, misguided strategic execution can lead to underwhelming results. Developing a content strategy that considers your blog’s maturity level is therefore essential.

Doing so creates a clear path to growth driven by daily, impactful activity. Your most impactful activity is what you would do for the blog if you only had one hour a day to do it. And for many of us, that hour is all that’s available!

All blogs go through three maturity phases. These phases align with the traditional stages of the marketing funnel. Understanding your most impactful activity to undertake given this alignment can mean the difference between consistent, controlled growth, and some unnecessary growing pains which you certainly want to avoid.

To get a better idea of how these maturity stages work, let’s check out each individually.

Guide to Social Media Management for HigherEd Institutions

Starting a blog: 3 maturity stages

Bloggers pass through three developmental stages in their blog’s maturity lifecycle:

  1. Creation
  2. Transition
  3. Monetization

1. The creation phase

When starting a blog, you are the sole creator. The amount of content produced on, and outside of the blog, is entirely up to you. The content created brings people into the top of the marketing funnel. They are just becoming familiar with your blog, and what you write about.

As the sole creator, you are responsible for each of the following:

  1. Audience research
  2. Keyword research
  3. Cornerstone content development
  4. Guest blog outreach & production

It’s a lot, right? The creation phase can be overwhelming. But it doesn’t have to be. This is why it’s essential to be organized and consistent with your daily activity. However you choose to organize and set goals, set that in stone in this phase. If it’s on paper, great. If it’s a to-do list or project management software, even better.

Just get your pattern down because as things get more complicated that pattern will become your biggest ally. Audience research, keyword research, and cornerstone content development have a start and end date. Guest blog outreach and guest blog production, however, never, ever ends if you want your blog to be powerful.

Most importantly, don’t burden yourself yet with thinking about how you’re going to make money blogging. There’s plenty of time for that to happen. For now, you’re a creator. You’ll be more of a manager, later. It’ll come around faster than you think.

Audience research

Once you’ve selected a niche, you need to identify and understand your audience. Creating targeted and carefully crafted content for your blog is essential. To evaluate your potential audience, there are a few steps to take.

The first is using a tool like Facebook Audience Insights to get an idea of general interest in your niche. Facebook Audience Insights helps you to identify a general profile of your most likely reader. There are limitless options to segment a general audience with interest to your niche down to granular detail.

Once you have an idea of who your most likely reader is, developing personas comes next. Personas are sketches of your reader(s). And these sketches include demographic, psychographic, and behavioral information. Demographic information includes gender, race, income, education level and the like. This outlines who your persona is. Psychographic information, on the other hand, outlines why they are interested in you. It covers why your content is interesting to your audience.

Examining reader behavior fleshes out personas. Does your audience act like you think they would? Does the performance of some pieces of content come across as a surprise to you? This could either indicate that your persona sketches are on track, or need some tweaking.

One way to dig further into reader behavior is to employ social listening tactics.

Using tools like Mention, for example, social listening allows you to see what’s being said about your blog or brand in real-time on various social platforms including Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram.

Actively participating in social listening allows you to see how your readers are behaving, and respond accordingly. Often, this includes putting out small fires before they turn into infernos.

The real-time aspect of this activity, and the platforms which facilitate it allows you to address troubling situations as they’re occurring. The faster you can address a customer’s concerns, sympathize, and find an equitable solution, the more likely you are to retain their interest and their business.

Keyword research

Once you’ve identified your audience, keyword research comes next. There are several great keyword research tools out there. Two of the most well-known, that I would strongly suggest, are Ahrefs and Moz. Both offer reasonable trial periods allowing you some basic keyword research to get started.

There are a few factors to consider when evaluating blog keywords:

  1. Monthly Global Search Volume
  2. Competition Level
  3. Keyword Variations

You want monthly global search volume of your keywords to be at least 1,000 to 5,000. Your primary keyword should be closer to 5,000 if possible. After all, if people aren’t searching for your primary keyword, there’s minimal interest in your niche. And you’d be wasting time starting a blog on it, no matter how well-intentioned.

The competition level is also important. Ahrefs uses a 0 to 100 scale to measure competitiveness. Anything over a 30 is going to be tough for a new blog to compete for, anything over 60 very tough. This isn’t to say you should avoid a niche just because it’s competitive.

Be aware that ranking for these higher-competition keywords is a marathon, not a sprint. The higher the competition level, the more backlinks you will need to compete.

Keyword variation is also important. You want to be able to write cornerstone content that has a chance to rank not just for your primary keyword, but also for semantic keywords, also known as Latent Semantic Indexing or LSI keywords. LSI keywords are directly related to your primary keyword, and often easier to compete for in search rankings. Sprinkling in LSI keywords as you write your cornerstone pieces (and down the road, other pieces) is a solid strategy no matter what. Google has explicitly said using LSI keywords in your content matters for search ranking.

Moral of the story: When Google speaks, listen!

Cornerstone content development

In the creation phase, you’ll create two types of content:

  1. Cornerstone content for your own blog.
  2. Guest content for other blogs with solid domain authority.

We’ll cover guest content shortly. First, let’s dig into cornerstone content. Cornerstone content covers the 3-5 core concepts that are important to your niche. These articles will eventually become traffic engines for your blog as they rank for a variety of keywords, and have multiple backlinks pointing to them. Cornerstone articles should be at least 2,000 words in length and be as in-depth as possible about the topic.

As an example, let’s say your blog is about homebrewing. From a quick search of homebrewing as a keyword in Ahrefs, your cornerstone topics become pretty obvious:

  1. Home Brewing– 59 competition, 3.9K global monthly search volume
  2. Home Brewing Supplies – 58 competition, 4K global monthly search volume
  3. Home Brew Recipes – 18 competition, 1.5K global monthly search volume

When creating these cornerstone articles, each article should link to the others. This interlinking is just as valuable from an SEO perspective as getting new backlinks to the articles from outside content.

Guest blog outreach & production

Once you’ve published your blog’s cornerstone content, it’s time to turn attention for a while to guest blogging outreach and creating guest blog content. Posting on other blogs within your niche is impactful early in your own blog’s life because it sets the stage for the future.

The majority of sites will allow you to include one do-follow link back to your own blog when you publish a guest post. It takes a while for these links to get recognized by Google and indexing tools like Ahrefs, but they will, and the links will start to flow. I’d suggest focusing on securing and writing as many guest posts as possible over the first 60-90 days of your blog’s life before you turn back to the blog to create new content for it.

Start small and think large, in time. Reach out to blogs in your niche that offer guest posting accounts where you can write articles that they approve on their own platform to get used to the process. Once you’ve done that for a while, then reaching out to sites with higher domain authority is more reasonable.

Eventually, when you’ve repeated this process for long enough, other bloggers will want to write on your site as well, due to your own domain authority and presence in the niche. Once this happens, your focus can turn to other parts of building the business of your blog.

2. The transition phase

The transition phase of your blog comes when strong reader attention is established, and you are building reader loyalty. In the traditional marketing funnel, readers are moving from “being aware of what you offer” to “being interested in that offer”. And maybe even making a decision to eventually do business with you.

By the time your blog is transitioning out of the creation stage, your focus is becoming more targeted. Sure, you’re still creating content, but it’s a different type of content. As you start to transition into a more mature blog, your audience understands your unique value proposition (UVP) and is starting to compare what you offer, to what your competitors offer. Therefore, you want to highlight how you’re different from competitors in the content that you create.

This can be done through long-form pieces like ebooks, whitepapers and other data-driven studies that show a definable difference between you and the competition. It can also be done through videos, webinars, podcasts and other similar media that bring a human component to your brand which helps to build trust. Trust leads to sales, so this step is essential in your blog’s development.

At this point, you’re probably still doing some guest blogging, but on sites with increasingly higher domain authority. And, much of the content being created on your site may be from other guest bloggers from your niche that recognize your own blog as an authority. As a blog matures it should become increasingly easier to find free sources of quality content. And, sure, maybe pay on occasion for a really well-done piece as well.

As you start to move from being the sole creator to more of a delegator and manager, the time to start to focus on monetization opens up, and the third stage of maturity kicks in.

3. The monetization phase

Once your blog has reached full maturity it’s a well-oiled machine. You’re getting traffic from a wide variety of sources including organic search, social media, links that you’ve built, referrals and maybe even a little paid search traffic if you choose to take that gamble (and yes, it’s a gamble, unless you can scale it to thousands of dollars of spending a month).

In the traditional marketing funnel, your readers are starting to become customers. They’re taking the action that you’ve prompted them to take throughout the life cycle of the content that you’ve created in the other maturity stages.

4 ways to monetize your blog

There are four common ways to monetize the traffic you’re now receiving:

  1. Consulting services
  2. Affiliate programs
  3. Advertising
  4. Online courses

Maintaining a healthy balance of these four means of monetization on your blog without overwhelming your readers is a big challenge. You want your consulting services to be obvious on your blog and attention driven to them through calls to action spread throughout it, but you also don’t want those CTAs to be annoying.

Affiliate programs can be a little more embedded, and less obvious. Most of the money you’ll likely make on affiliate commission will be via traffic that clicks on an affiliate link on your site and makes a purchase elsewhere, from which you receive a cut.

Advertising is the big one that can be a turn-off for your readers if you aren’t careful. But it can also be highly lucrative. The right mix of advertising units that provide a strong return on investment for the real estate they occupy, but also don’t degrade your user experience is absolutely vital. Much of your most impactful activity during the monetization phase is tweaking all of these elements together to make as much as possible. While making the experience as enjoyable as possible for your loyal readers.

Online courses can also be highly lucrative but take a great deal of work to create. These will likely be a work in progress over many months if not years. The easiest way to approach these, often, is for the courses to be a mirror of your cornerstone content. If you follow this route, additional topics can be added over time to attract more segmented readers with very specific interests. Online courses are an awesome source of passive income, for which the work you put in could end up being well worth it in the long run.

Conclusion

Building a blog is not easy. It’s not for the faint of heart. It’s a marathon that’s full of peaks and valleys, but you absolutely will learn a ton. And it’s what you learn – when combined with daily impactful effort – that can make you a success, and build a passive income which could change your life for the better.

Just be ready for the long haul!

Guide to Social Media Management for HigherEd Institutions

Kris Hughes is the founder of Blog to Scale, where he teaches bloggers how to escape the hamster wheel of constant content creation and build their blogs through measured, impactful daily activity. He also works as the Content Marketing Manager for Hearth, a San Francisco-based home improvement financial services company.

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