It's been proven for years that businesses that blog receive more leads than those that do not. Even businesses like private clubs are benefitting from blogs that are built-in to their existing websites. Not only are blogs an ideal platform for your club stories, they're also an excellent medium for communicating club news.
In this episode, Ed Heil and Evan Dean, a channel consultant for HubSpot, talk about the benefits of blogging and how clubs can create content that helps them increase membership and drive member engagement. If you're not familiar with blogs, no sweat. It's a high-level conversation intended to help you better understand how blogs can help drive revenue to your club.
In this episode:
- Intro to Inbound Marketing (1:50)
- All About Blogging (4:40)
- Why Should Clubs Blog? (9:55)
- Example: How Blogging Gets a Club "Found" (12:39)
- Thinking Like a Search Engine (17:10)
- Unlocking Your Keywords (19:35)
- Are You Really Suggesting Mentioning Competitors? (24:15)
- First Steps to Start Blogging (25:30)
- Know Your Audience (32:38)
- The Power of Stories (33:37)
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1:50 - Intro to Inbound Marketing
ED: A lot of the people that I talk to in club marketing are familiar with HubSpot because they've read their blogs. But a lot of people don't really know who HubSpot is. For our listeners who are not familiar with HubSpot, can you help them understand the company and what they do and how they help people?
EVAN: HubSpot is a marketing software company. We're out of Cambridge, Massachusetts. We now have offices around the globe. We started back in 2006. I started at HubSpot in 2012. We're a software company, and the software that we produce is for managing your online presence, things like your website, email, and social media, and how you really interact with people online. The software that we've created is really about doing a type of marketing that we call Inbound Marketing.
HubSpot literally wrote the book on the subject Inbound Marketing, and what that means is marketing in a way that's not necessarily going and reaching out to people, but helping them find you online and facilitating that decision to do business with you. [00:03:06][17.3]
ED: The word, marketing, for private clubs, in some ways has been taboo for a long time, just given the nature of the business. And one of the things about HubSpot software is that it bucks the idea of traditional marketing. And one of my favorite lines is you create marketing that people love, but how do they do that?
EVAN: I've been at HubSpot for a while, and they've managed to keep me around because we actually do that. I think what we mean by that is marketing has traditionally kind of been in your face. You remember pop-up advertisements from the late 90s and, of course, we always get junk mail and radio advertisements. There are things that are very disruptive for us. And in the concept of Inbound Marketing, which we implement through the HubSpot software, it's more about helping people find you online. When someone has a need or a problem, you are ensuring that they find the content that you created to help them solve that problem or fit that need. And when we say create marketing which people love, what we really mean is doing business in a way that helps people understand how your products or services can help them without necessarily shoving it down their throat.
4:40 - All About Blogging
ED: That's a great setup and segue for today's topic, which is about blogging. It seems like, for a lot of people, they don't even know they're reading a blog, sometimes. And if you had been introduced to the idea of blogging in the 90s, it might feel like something that's old and outdated. I remember I was talking to someone, and they were like, "Hey, I don't read blogs." I said, "I bet you don't realize you are, but chances are that when you're Googling information, you're going to end up on someone's blog somewhere." And the guy looked at me like, "Really?" So, from a super high level, what is a blog, Evan?
EVAN: I think we can talk about it, at first, in the way that you introduced it there. The way that we used to think of blogs in the 90s. A "blog," first of all, that's short for a "web log." Right? Web, meaning the internet, and a log, meaning a kind of a diary. That's sort of how it started. That was the nature of them, at first. They were more like informal diary-style text entries and posts. And in that way, they weren't always super helpful. But when we think about a blog nowadays, it's much more integrated into a website. And the focus has absolutely shifted from "let me tell you a personal story about myself," and there are certainly blogs out there like that, but a lot of that kind of content has been taken over by social media. That might be more appropriate for a Facebook update, whereas a blog is often your way to translate helpful information for people as part of your website.
ED: Is that maybe one of the biggest misunderstandings?
EVAN: I think that might be it. Yeah. I think it's like "I'm reading a blog, I'm going to read someone's journal entry." And that's not unfair, because there is always still part of that. You know, any time you encounter a history of the Internet, those things stick with us. I mentioned pop-ups earlier, and for anyone who's like a child of the 90s or was there for the early Internet, the pop up has a very bad connotation for many of us. That's just the Internet at its absolute worst. I feel like if you've ever read a web page that you thought was helpful, you probably have read a blog post.
ED: Exactly. If you ever Googled something and found something like how to do something, you probably read a blog. You work with a lot of types of businesses, B2B and B2C. In your experience, and you're juggling 80 HubSpot partners, which is phenomenal. When you think about the cross-section of the businesses that you come across, why do those businesses blog? What's the underlying purpose?
EVAN: Everyone sees value in having some kind of online presence. You know, it's 2018. You have to have some sort of online presence, I think, to have credibility, in a lot of ways. But the reason that I think blogging is almost always a part of that, is that for the types of businesses that I work with, and for a lot of businesses who see value in doing online marketing, there are usually a few kinds of general commonalities. There's a good amount of value to a lead. So, there's value in being found online for them. And oftentimes, that's either a high-value decision, something like an airplane turbine, perhaps. Or it's a lifetime value sort of decision. So, you may be a subscriber to our tools or our software, or you're going to stick with us for a while and do business with us for a long time.
The other component which I think we have to highlight is the decision making process to do business with someone. So, if you run a business where someone needs to make a decision to do business with you, they're going to research the topic, they're going to research who you are, and what you do. Well, you want to make sure that content is available to them online in a way which they could find. I mean, the way that they're searching for it, through search tools like Google and Bing. And all too often, a blog is just a really great vehicle for doing that.
9:55 - Why Should Clubs Blog?
ED: This concept is new to a lot of our listeners, and you may be sitting there trying to increase your member base, or maybe you're trying to drive more weddings and catering events your club, and I just want to make sure that you understand that a lot of successful businesses today are using blogs as a way to increase the number of their qualified leads. So, just putting it in club terms, blogs can be used to help increase leads for new members as well as for weddings and catering events.
And, if you're a golf club, blogs can also be used as a way to increase your Monday golf events. For example, let's just break it down anecdotally. As membership directors and GMs know, there's a very strong word of mouth component to finding a new club or learning about a club, for someone who's, you know, looking into those options. So, if I'm that guy and I'm interested in joining a private club, and my buddy says, "Hey, Farm Meadows is a club near you (just making up that name), you should check it out." Well, the first thing I'm going to do, is I'm going to go online — especially if I've never heard of the club or I'm not that familiar with the club. I'm going to go online. I'm going to go to their website, and I'll probably start digging around, trying to do as much research as possible because I want to see if it's the kind of place I'd want to spend my time. I want to see if they have activities that my family and I would want to be part of, and, of course, the big thing is I want to get a feeling for whether or not I would fit in. And I can pull all this information from the website and digging around and seeing what's there. Blogs can be really helpful in that way. It's there like a window into the club that can show people what it's really like to be a member.
They get that through the posts that are shared on the blog, and through the stories that are within the posts, about the members or about the events. That blog can really give the reader a very honest sense of what club life looks like for your club. We all realize that every club has its own personality, has its own vibe, and what better way to showcase that than through a club blog? And, you know Evan, let's face it, the club business is like every other business, and you've got a lot of different types of businesses you work with, but especially in the hospitality world, if you think of hotels, clubs are a lot like them. And as consumers, we're doing our homework online before we invest time in a club tour.
12:39 - Example: How Blogging Gets a Club "Found"
EVAN: So, I think there are two things that are going to be significant in that example that you're giving. One is just getting found, and how you're getting found. You said, "Farm Meadows," and I'm going to do a search for it. At the minimum, Farm Meadows needs to come up in that search. That's good, and that's actually fairly easily accomplishable, just by having a website. Now, what's more important than that is now my decision to say, "Do I want to go to Farm Meadows? What are the things that I care about?" I might do that in two different ways. I might go around their website and look for the different pages, which answer my questions, or I might do a more complex search. I might do "Farm Meadow family events." I might do "Farm Meadows trial period." Or "Farm Meadows kid friendly."
ED: There are a couple of things that we're talking about. You talk about the online presence, and what we're really saying is are you able to be found by people who are looking for the things that you offer? And what does that look like when they find you? So often, as I've talked to some groups about it in the past, is that your blog content is a great place to put newsletter-type information for clubs that are managing a newsletter and some very robust newsletters. There are potentially some great stories that can end up on the blog that are really useful for people who are trying to learn about the club. People think you're talking about online marketing and all this stuff and we don't market and I don't like the idea, and we don't even like talking about marketing. But when putting on stories about — I was speaking to a club marketing communications person a couple of weeks ago, and they were sharing a story that they ran about one of their instructors, tennis instructor who had just been recognized nationally, and I thought, that's a great story. It's recognizing that person in your club, it's sharing that great news with your members, and if you're vetting the club and you are really interested in the tennis program, that blog could really showcase your club in a way that's different than another club in the area.
EVAN: I think one of the golden rules of operating on the internet is, is it something that you are proud of? Is it something honest and good? It's easy when you use that kind of language, but most of the stuff we're talking about, that's the case. If I was to share that as an example, if I did have this great story about my tennis pro, and I was to share that via e-mail, in the real world, that would be the equivalent of me like writing that down on a note and then handing it to you. Now you know that it happened, but is that a secret? Why wouldn't I post that in the town square, and let them know about this great tennis pro, be proud of them, share that information? And then when we go to the example of how that affects search, well it is very much like the town square at that point. We were just talking about the example of Farm Meadows and their kids program, well if I was talking about Farm Meadows and their tennis pro, well not that that's been posted in the town square, Evan Dean is going to go and find it when he's looking for information about Farm Meadows tennis pro.
ED: Because it's out there in public now.
EVAN: It's out there in public, yeah.
17:10 - Thinking Like a Search Engine
ED: So let's just break this one down a little bit and we'll jump into the whole search part of that and how people actually find this because a lot of times people will say, "That's great, but who's going to find it?"
EVAN: On the internet, we have to kind of think a little differently about that. If it's about getting found by people who are looking for it, we need to make sure that we're phrasing it in a way that's going to match their search. So, they're looking for a club that has a great tennis pro, so you need to use the terms "club" and "tennis pro." That means when somebody actually does that search, Google is actually able to make that connection for them. And we'll go ahead and just use Google because it's almost always Google. And what happens is they'll look at the title of your web page. Google goes and crawls it, or they index it, they make note of what you have written about based on the words that you have used. And then they will use that information to serve it up to someone who's doing that search. So, if Evan Dean is searching for "tennis club pros" or "local tennis club pros" or "Farm Meadows tennis club pro" and Ed Heil has written an article about Farm Meadows' tennis club pro, Google knows to connect us up there.
ED: So, the idea is that we have to be thinking like a search engine?
EVAN: No, that doesn't have enough heart in it. What you should be thinking about is thinking like the person doing the search. So, I want to find you, Ed. That article that you wrote, you wrote it for me. And I'm actually out there looking for it. But if you give it some cutesie name that Evan Dean, the guy who doesn't understand tennis all so well, wouldn't be searching for. And even if he did understand tennis, he wouldn't be searching for it because your name was a little too "creative," you're going to miss me. I'm going to miss you, actually is the case. I'm looking for you, but you didn't give it the title that I was looking for.
19:35 Unlocking Your Keywords
ED: So, let's talk a little bit more about that. We've had an opportunity to discuss how clubs can use their blog to put information about events, people, and stories. They can use their blog to publish those stories, which can be so great for member engagement. Those posts can be used to put on Facebook and other social media, but primarily Facebook for most clubs, and it can create a great feel-good vibe for people who the stories are about and for people who might be casually interested in the club, whether they're members or not, in that case. And now there's this whole other component that we're starting to talk about now, which is the benefit of being found for certain things online. So, this whole idea of saying, "When I go and do a search for best private golf club in the area, I don't come up. How come?" Or, the other one that we'll hear sometimes is, "We want to be known as a great destination for weddings because we have a beautiful facility and we know we can drive more revenue for weddings or maybe sports banquets or things like that." How can a blog help us accomplish those things so that we get found for things like best family club or private club, weddings, sports banquets and things like that?
EVAN: There are two different things you can do there. First of all, if it is something specific, like "wedding venue," that's something that you might be able to just get directly found for by talking about it. And I think, in that example, that's a high-value search term, so you'd probably want to be a little more specific. People, and let me just think about all my friends, they're looking for a rustic wedding venue right now. They're also doing research on the subject that's going to get them found for that idea of a rustic wedding venue. So, as we blog about that, we talk about how our facilities can handle that, or we even just talk about the subject and the idea s of a rustic wedding. You know, here are ten different things that you could do with Mason jars. Well, that stuff is going to get us found on that subject. Now, on the idea of the qualifying search terms, like "best" and "top ten" and things like that. You could do some work around that. There are ways you can get creative with it, and you can talk about the subjects. But, for a lot of those, that's going to be the trusted authority on the subject making the decision for us.
ED: What do you mean by that?
EVAN: When we do those top searches, we're often going to go to somebody who creates media online, like a golf magazine is likely going to be the best, trusted resource for top clubs in an area.
ED: Got it. Or if it's a wedding, like the Wedding Wire or The Knot or some other online resources.
EVAN: And then things like Yelp. Those are going to get found there. Now what I'd say is that's not all just up in the air, and you absolutely can't expect them to do the legwork. They're not testing out ten different weddings at those facilities. What they're doing is they're doing the initial searches, they're seeing what the different places in the area have to say about rustic weddings, which is a really popular topic, and then they're making their decision to index them and list them based on that information. So, they're also using their online presence there.
There are some other things you can do, as well. If you wanted to get found for the top ten wedding venues, you might start talking online about what the "top wedding venues," using that kind of language, have in common. And you might find yourself in a position where you're kind of pointing to some of your competitors or at least some of the other people playing in your ecosystem, and effectively, what you're doing is you're making yourself the authority on the subject.
24:15 - Are You Really Suggesting Mentioning Competitors?
ED: That's a really interesting idea that I think a lot of people would go, "Why would I ever write a blog to put my competitors on?" What do you say to that?
EVAN: I'm sure there probably a lot of different metaphors you might be able to do, but I just imagine someone who feels confident enough to talk about the qualities of their competitors and other people in their space. What I assume about that sort of person, and really we're talking about online entities, we're talking about memberships and clubs and things like that, but I just think about it like a party. That's the most common metaphor. So, nobody likes a person at a party who talks about themselves all night. Everybody likes that person at the party that's always got a compliment and is interested in other people. In being that person, you gain a lot of respect and admiration and authority. That's something that a confident and successful person does. And it's also something that a confident and successful business does.
25:30 - First Steps to Start Blogging
ED: We've talked about a lot of aspects of blogging. I thought what might be helpful for people listening to this podcast is getting some really helpful steps to get started. A lot of the people that I come across, when I talk about blogging, they're really open to the idea. They think it sounds really interesting and compelling, yet just don't know where to start. A lot of clubs have beautiful websites with stock images, no blog, but they might look really nice. What are a few things that someone who just wants to get started, what are the steps they should take?
EVAN: I think, as another kind of general rule, if you're thinking about the person first, that technology will back you up. What I mean by that is Google has gotten much, much better every year. They get smarter, their algorithms get more complex. What they're trying to do is connected people better. And what they're really trying to do is connect people who deserve to be connected or really should be connected. Google doesn't want to be scammed by the person who knows how to do online tricks. They want the person who's using their search tool, their business, to find what they're looking for online. They've gotten much better at doing that. So, what I would say is just focus on your people, and Google will do the work for you.
Let me get a little more specific and a little more practical around that. When we think about your people, what I would say is, look at what you do. Try to break it down at a really high level, conceptually. Let's go with your example again, Farm Meadows. So, at Farm Meadows, they've got a tennis court, I know they've got a great tennis pro, we talked about her. They've got a golf course, I think they might have a spa over there at Farm Meadows, and they've got some fabulous dining. Moreover, they're a place for community, they're a place for kids, they're a place for families and camaraderie. So, that's kind of what Farm Meadows does, and that's what they have to offer. So, what you should do is take those things, and I just rattled off about eight things, think of them at a high level, and what you can do is you put them on a whiteboard. Then what you should do is drill into each of those concepts a little more specifically, thinking about how people might actually be finding that if they weren't necessarily looking for you. Let's go with the tennis pro. First of all, we might want some novices. We'd love to get new people at our club, so we might want to get found for people who are "learning to play tennis." And you can always tell when I kind of stutter step my words like that because I'm kind of identifying a keyword: "learning to play tennis." That's the keyword we're looking for. "Learn to play tennis," "advanced tennis lessons." "tennis lessons from a pro," "play tennis at a club," "what do I wear to play tennis at a club." All these things that someone who should be finding Farm Meadows online, what are they searching for in the category of tennis? I'd have a concept, and I'd write 'em all down, and if I was really smart, I would talk to someone like Ed, and he would help me use some data to back that up. And he'd say they're not searching for "learning to play tennis," they're actually searching for "how to play tennis." You know, that's what the person who wants to learn to play tennis is searching for. We'd use a little data to help our concept be a little more specific to the people who are looking for us.
So, I've got eight things, my eight high-level concepts, and then I've got like four or five more specifics within that concept. I now have 40 topics, and I'm going to be blogging maybe about once a week. I've got my blog titles for almost the whole year. I don't have a blog title, but I've got the most important part of a blog title, which is what someone is searching for. So, in that subject of how to play tennis, you know what might be an interesting blog title, and I know I kind of poked a little fun at it earlier, but it might be something like, "Falling in Love with How to Play Tennis."
ED: So, what I'm what I'm hearing you say is if you're just starting out, really try to think about the areas of your club that you want to either be known for or be found for.
EVAN: Or that you're unique for.
ED: Sounds like you've got a lot of things that are maybe, we wouldn't call them awareness, but consideration type topics. Is that usually the easiest place to start, like "learn how to play tennis" and things like that, as opposed to comparing the top three tennis clubs in the area?
EVAN: Yeah. When you think about those kinds of qualifying search terms, it can be a little tough, like the top tennis clubs in the area, but you should absolutely take that person into account. So, if I am somebody who really knows what I'm looking for, I play tennis, I'm doing a different kind of search. I really care about some very specific things, I've been at it for a while. So, when I am actually comparing the top tennis clubs in the area, I know what I'm looking for. I want a well-groomed clay court — I really don't know what a serious tennis player is looking for, but I'll tell you what, someone who manages a club does. They literally know this guy who's a very serious tennis player.
So, let's make sure that person is absolutely accounted for, and let's make sure that the things that they are researching because they're going to, because it's an important decision for them, that they find those on our website as well.
32:38 Know Your Audience
ED: So, the other thing I'm hearing you identify is the importance of really knowing who you're trying to speak to, and having those personas really locked in. In many ways, is that maybe one of the biggest things, before you even dive into starting a blog, really understanding who you're writing it for?
EVAN: Oh, absolutely. And I think there's actually something really important, and we call this concept persona creation and identification in the world of Inbound Marketing. What I'd say is you should draw those lines fairly early on, and at a high level. So, who is the serious tennis player, and who is a young person who's thinking about getting into tennis as a hobby? And let's make sure that each of them is understood in different ways, and that we write in a way which is getting found by them, but that is also kind of what they want to consume, what they want to understand about the process.
33:37 - The Power of Stories
ED: What are a couple of tricks or suggestions that you have for people to keep in mind when they're starting out? Because blogs are notorious for being one of those things, like, oh my gosh, we've got to go start a blog, and they're great for like three weeks or so, or maybe it's three months, but then it's like, we don't have the time for this. How can clubs stay on track with that and really commit? Do you have any tips or any secrets or things you've learned that are really effective for that?
EVAN: Let's think about the person actually writing this stuff, and let's be nice to them. So, first of all, let's not ask them to write about the same subject a bunch of times in a row. Yes, over the course of our year, we're going to write about tennis five or six times, but we won't ask them to do all of those all at once. We're going to space them out, so every eight weeks we'll circle back to tennis. You know, give them a little break, have them write about different things. That also means that we're writing an interesting blog about a lot of different subjects for our readers right. I would also say that there are some really interesting ways to get content created via the process that we're kind of doing here, an interview. If you're trying to get that person who's the expert, like you really want your tennis pro to create something for you, but they're just never going to sit down at their computer and type out 600 words for you. Get them on the phone, schedule that time, and do an interview with them. Then you, being the content curator, can type that all out. You can present that in interview style or you can just reference what they had to say, take all the little good bits and incorporate that into your blog content, or into your website content. And one of my favorite things to do is I like to write content that's about someone. I could write about learning to play tennis, and that's a great subject, there are definitely people doing searches for that, it's the example that we keep coming back to. But what would be more interesting would be if I wrote a story about "first time on the court, Evan Dean learning to play tennis." I'm talking about what it's like to learn to play tennis, and I'm really talking about what it's like to learn to play tennis at Farm Meadows. But I'm making it easy on myself because my story has a hero. I can talk about the subject, but then I could add in little anecdotes about what happened with Even. You know, he really had no idea what he was doing. He walked onto the wrong side of the court, and he had the wrong color shoes on, but we set him straight there, and by the end of the day he was feeling confident and doing good. You know stories are always great when they're about someone, and that's interesting writing it and gives you a lot of content to get going on.
ED: That's a terrific suggestion because what people tend to do is then internalize that and try to imagine how they would do it and what the experience might be like for them, as well. That's a great tip, in general, for people who are writing. So often we get into that trap of writing about the event or the thing rather than the people who are experiencing it. That's a great suggestion.
EVAN: The last nice thing about writing about someone is if I write a story about Evan Dean playing tennis, Evan Dean is then going to share that on his social media. He's going to tell his friends, he going to point a lot of online value to that blog that we wrote. And that right there is a really great experience for us, and it's incredibly valuable. It's another reason that writing about someone is really valuable to us.
ED: For sure. It's like free PR. You get that out and other people are sharing the story for you.