One of the more common pieces of advice about writing for your blog is to avoid “salesy” content. Don’t write sales pitches. Don’t write to promote your own content. It’s provably bad for your site, but why? Let’s dig in.
Biased Content Isn’t Trustworthy
Let’s think about two scenarios.
In the first scenario, you’re shopping for a new car. You start talking to someone, and that someone is telling you all about a new car. They’re telling you how great the car is. It has good gas mileage, it’s got a very high safety rating, it has plenty of space for the whole family, it can go off-roading with ease, it has all the bells and whistles, it sounds just great! So you ask more about it, and the guy you’re talking to takes you into his office next door; he’s a car salesman, and he’s been pitching you this whole time.
How do you feel? Do you feel trusting, like he had your best interests at heart? Or do you think he oversold the virtues of this vehicle to you? You start to doubt. Maybe this car isn’t a full-size family vehicle AND capable of off-roading. Maybe the safety rating isn’t quite as high as he wanted you to think. Maybe it’s actually complete junk that looks good from the outside, but he doesn’t care because once you sign the contract, he gets his commission and can go on his way.
Now let’s think of the second scenario. You’re still shopping for a new car, and you’re still talking to someone about it. This person is telling you about a car they know of. It’s a really good car; it has all the bells and whistles, it’s big enough for the whole family, and it’s capable of off-roading. It has great gas mileage and a good safety rating. All in all, it sounds like a great car.
So you ask more about it, and the person shrugs. “Here’s their website,” they say, and links you to it. You check, and it’s not an affiliate link, and they aren’t asking you to send in a referral code or anything. It’s just someone who knows a lot about cars and knows a good one to recommend to you.
Are you more confident? In general, you will be. This person wasn’t trying to sell you a car, they were just sharing their knowledge about cars. They don’t get anything out of the sale. If anything, maybe they’re getting you to trust them so you come back to them later for more advice, but that’s about it. They’re being a friend and sharing their knowledge, their experience, their perspective.
Which of these two scenarios is the person you’ll trust moving forward? Even if the salesman is correct in everything they say and the car actually IS a perfect vehicle for your needs, you inherently trust him less because he has a vested interest in it, that being the profit he gets from closing the sale.
This is basically the scenario that happens when you write blog posts about your own products or services. People who search for the solution to a problem encounter your post, and they might not even click on it because they recognize you. Those who don’t recognize you click on it and read about how great this product is, only to find it was you telling them that, and inherently distrust everything you’ve said.
There have simply been too many people, companies, snake oil salesmen, and scammers throughout the entirety of human history to take anyone promoting their own stuff at face value. At least, not outside of the right circumstances. You CAN be salesy, just not in your blog. Save it for the right time and the right place.
Sales Content Becomes Less Sharable
While the trust issue is by far the biggest issue with writing sales content for your blog, there are other issues as well. Sharing and linking is a (second) big one.
When you write content on a blog, you want it to get exposure. Search engine exposure is one of the main routes, but you also want to get it from links from other blogs and from social media shares.
Now let me ask you, as a person and a user. How often are you going to share a blog post that is basically “here’s how our product solves X problem”? I’m going to venture to say “not very often.”
Oh, sure, sometimes you’ll get shares and links. I know if I’m encountering a problem and the only solution I’ve found is a particular product, I’ll keep that product in mind. If someone else has the same problem, I’m likely to find that article and link it to them. However, that’s a narrow scenario. I have to both have had the problem, had it solved, and have a friend who has the same problem and hasn’t been able to find a solution. If any of those criteria fails to be met, I’m barely even going to read the post, let alone share it anywhere.
Social media shares bring in traffic, which you lose by being too sales focused. Blog links bring in both traffic and SEO value, which you lose by being too sales focused. That’s a lot of lost value!
Search Exposure is Limited
Users who use a search engine are looking for something specific. They might be looking for information about a problem, or a solution to a problem. They might be looking to educate themselves, or follow a tutorial, or research a topic. There are a lot of possible reasons they’re typing in any given query, but very few of those reasons are “because I want to buy your product.”
Now, maybe you can convince them that your product is the solution to their problem, but we all know just how hard it is to convert anyone these days. People want to shop around, they want comparison articles, they want reviews from impartial third parties, and on and on. The chances that they see your blog post and decide to convert, then and there (after reading an article that is basically a sales pitch) are pretty slim.
You have to provide value, and talking about your product relentlessly has little value to brand new visitors.
The Rest of Your Blog is Already Pushing Sales
Look at pretty much any blog you visit. Look beyond the content. What do you see?
Here’s a few things I’m guessing you’ll find.
- A greeting bar at the top of the screen, informing you of a special offer, possibly with a countdown or a wiggling button.
- A box on the side of the screen promoting another piece of content, an ebook, a service, a sale, or something else.
- A banner near the top of the post promoting something like a conference, a new product, or a best selling product.
- A box that slides in down in the corner of the page when you scroll or just after a few seconds, asking for a sign-up or promoting an ebook, or something of the sort.
- A big box that pops up and lays over top of the content and asks for a sign-up or promotes a sale.
- A navigation bar that scrolls with you as you scroll down, with tabs on it for products, services, and pricing.
All of this exists and is already promotional. Your blog is already layered with promotional content, possibly almost too much promotional content, that your users are already being exposed to when they visit. Why add one more vector? I’m sure the visitor, if they’re interested, can figure out how to look into it and find out what you sell.
Users Don’t Like It
When you’re flipping through channels on the television – or for a more modern-day take, when you’re watching a new episode of something on Hulu’s free service – and you’re interrupted by a commercial, do you watch it?
Consuming commercials is a passive experience. It’s something that happens to you while you’re doing something else. It’s the display ads of visual media. Sales blog posts are the same thing.
Users simply don’t like it when they’re looking for valuable content, insightful information, or otherwise useful writing, and all they get is a glorified sales pitch. If they wanted that, they can visit your homepage, your product pages, your landing pages, or somewhere else you have sales content posted. Your blog should be better than that.
It Doesn’t Attract New Users to the Funnel
Think about the purpose of a blog in your sales funnel (I linked to an image above that visualizes this well).
Typically, the people who are visiting your blog are going to be people who have never heard of your company before, or who have heard of you but are not considered fans. Your actual fans will visit your blog, sure, but they’ll also get a lot of their information from your mailing list, your social profiles, or just from the dashboard of your product, depending on what you sell.
If those new users arrive on your blog and see a self-promotional blog post, are they going to stick around? Chances are, probably not. That’s not the kind of information they came to see. They wanted a blog post and they got a landing page or a product page. It’s really just not the purpose of a blog in the first place.
How to Write Sales Content Properly
I’ve mentioned a couple of times that it’s possible to write promotional content on a blog and get away with it.
In fact, I’ve pretty definitely linked to self-promotional blog posts a few times on this blog. I haven’t batted an eye at it, either. So why is that?
Promotional content has a purpose. That purpose is to promote you, of course, but when it’s a blog post, the purpose is to be promotional for other people. Your promotional content isn’t meant to be shared on Facebook or to rank highly on Google. Rather, it’s meant to be linked to by other people who are compiling lists.
If I write a list of the top 10 SEO plugins, or something like that, I have a choice to make. I can link to each one of those tools by linking to their homepage or their plugin page, or I can link to a post written by the developer about the benefits of that tool. Something like a landing page, but on the blog.
Typically, I will choose to link to the homepage directly. I usually do that because I then go on and write about the benefits of the product myself, so linking to a page that says everything I was going to say doesn’t do my readers a lot of good. I’ve been known to link to more promotional content in the past, though. Other people also link to more narrow focus sales pages, or even landing pages, as well.
Another way you can write self-promotional content is as one smaller part of a larger post. For example, if I wrote a “top 20 content marketing and blog management agencies” post, I could include myself in that list. Do I think I’m really one of the top 20 in the world? Maybe not, but it doesn’t hurt me to include myself.
Here’s an example. WP Forms is a company that makes a form plugin for WordPress. They wrote an article about the six best free form plugins for WordPress, and they included themselves as the first entry. This is pretty common, and no one begrudges you adding that one entry for yourself.
Personally, I don’t think putting your own service as #1 on the list is the best idea, since it adds that bias question to the equation. How many of the services on the list are you including because they make your service look more favorable in comparison? Still, though, just offering alternatives – rather than pretending you’re the best or you’re the only option – is preferable.
The key, of course, is that value. Your post is only as good as the value people get from it, so packing it with more value allows you to get more out of your readers. They’ll be more likely to link to it and more likely to trust it if your self-promotion is only one part of it.
So, really, the best way to go about self-promotion on your blog is either rarely as part of a larger overall content plan, or as a small part of larger overall articles. Or both, really. It’s fine if you just don’t do it too often.
I’m curious, though. What do you think of self-promotion in blogging? I’ve met a few people who think it’s fine, and have had some level of success with “shameless self-promotion” through various channels and venues. On the other hand, I’ve also met people who recoil from the thought of being that promotional.