Brafton recently turned 10. Thank you for the cards and birthday punches.

In that span of time, a lot has changed about Brafton, about content marketing and about consumer search behavior. And we’ve redesigned our website many times over to accommodate these evolutions.

Our blog in particular recently made it to year 9 – it launched April 1, 2010. Similar to our site redesigns, our blog has undergone its fair share of changes in terms of strategy, word count requirements, structural formatting and UX.

2010: Blog No. 1 is super short, newsy and CTA-less

Brafton’s inaugural blog post, titled “SEO ninjas infiltrate company website, actually make it more visible” was a brief four-paragraph rehash of a news story.

The only conceivable audience for this piece would be search bots, as the phrase “search engine optimization (SEO)” was used three times in ways that seemed a tad forced. Additionally, there are no outbound links, images, calls-to-action or analysis: just a few hundred words and a little bit of light humor.

Yep, that’s the entire article.

In this era, we were publishing a new blog article about three to five times a day. That’s what SEO required at the time: volume, speed and high-level keyword matching.

A bit later in the year, we moved into more clickbaity style, cultural touchstones, writing about TV, social media and tech giants – through the lens of marketing. Here’s a sample:

Outbound links and stock photography soon made their way into our blog.

2011: Expanding our topical reach

In due time, our blog writing ventured into more relevant topics for our human readers, not just search engines. They also represented a shift in how we interacted with prospects and the market at large.

As you can see below, trends articles, industry-specific studies and Google algorithm updates trickled into our blog rotation:

We were still writing and publishing in bulk, but articles were now in the 300-word range, included in-line imagery, several external links and one or two internal links.

Additionally, the idea of “quality over quantity” hit the marketplace, and we represented that on our blog, a transition that continues to this day.

2012

As Obama’s second presidential campaign took off, the Brafton blog built upon its 2011 changes and introduced recurring industry news roundups, commentary on video and paid marketing and even our very own survey-based content. The times were indeed a-changin’.

In general, blog articles grew slightly longer in length and one can observe a subtle shift in how we spoke to our target audience. It’s also clear that our service offerings were changing, too. Video and social media were now part of our product catalog, and content marketing was no longer exclusively defined by written copy; it was video, graphics, paid ads, data insights and social promotion.

In the aforementioned survey, titled “Brafton’s content marketing poll results: Marketers find frequent, high-quality website content drives lead generation,” you can see the beginnings of long-form, user-generated content that addresses pain points and answers industry questions.

As seen above, embedded in this article were six custom graphs, two pull quotes and H2 subheads. Progress had materialized in a big way.

2013: Welcome video blogs, and even more studies

In 2013, our video blog product went mainstream for us and our clients. These short 1-2-minute videos turned regular news stories into easy-to-follow visual assets.

We often used video blogs to provide quick industry updates, and we included the transcript beneath the video so that search crawlers could better index our pages.


You can also clearly tell we were big into informing readers of the specific type of information they would be consuming before they clicked, as evidenced by the heavy usage of brackets in titles. Here are three examples all from the same day, April 23, 2013:

2014: More events, more internal insights

Brafton ramped up its presence in the content marketing industry by attending a bevy of national events related to SEO, tech, lead gen and more.

We also dove into publishing more employee features and other company-culture content. Here’s one of our firsts, a spotlight on Nick Kakolowski, one of our head writers. Nick was recognized for his long-form content prowess and his astounding record for never once receiving a client edit for an entire quarter in 2014: You read that right. Nick’s copy was so pristine, clients had nothing to add.

2015: Fewer posts, but greater content diversity

As content marketers saw the light, and Google algorithms emphasized the point, volume was no longer the name of the game. Our client-facing strategies and our own blog publication schedule shifted gears with written content.

Content grew longer, sometimes even cracking 800 words! Blog posts were published every other day, or every two days, rather than several every single day.

Collectively, as an industry, we took a deep breath, took a step back and reassessed the marketing landscape. Like we said, though, a lot of this recalibration was forced upon marketers because Google was now prioritizing different ranking signals in its ever-evolving RankBrain algorithm. By this juncture, keyword-stuffing was penalized, thin content was pruned and black-hat SEOs were losing their grip – on the industry and their minds.

The Brafton blog became a one-stop repository for content types spanning best practices videos, event coverage, evergreen articles, case studies, writing tips and resources targeted at certain verticals, like finance, lifestyle and tech.

For what it’s worth, 2015 saw the gif enter the Brafton blog lexicon:

2016: Multimedia hits the airwaves

We published less in 2016, maybe once or twice a week. The topics were representative of changing marketing channels. Podcasts, web design, social media distribution, HTTPS and augmented reality were now on the scene, and our writers were quick to adapt.

Our blog strategy expanded to incorporate additional multimedia elements like Twitter and Instagram embeds, custom memes and gifs, hi-res stock photography and branded videos.

Our linking strategy also became more intentional, with each story often linking out to five or more sources, on top of having several internal links. Lastly, we upped our CTA game – just a hair. We now had dedicated CTAs in each post, and, wait for it, there was bold font and targeted hyperlinks to form fills, too!

2017: The professionalization of data-led research

In 2017, present-day standard-bearers Jeff Baker and Lauren Fox took ownership of the Brafton blog. We wanted a blog that did more than generate traffic. We wanted a blog that drove sales conversations, fueled email marketing campaigns and dominated SERPs for high-value organic keywords.

And that’s what happened.

The topics we wrote on were dictated not by whim or general interest. They were all rooted in SERP data, competitive analysis and relevance to our commercial goals.

In practice, this translated to lots of lengthy, evergreen guides, how-tos and step-by-step instructionals. It also synced with our new approach to gated content, predominantly eBooks.

We dual-released eBooks as gated and ungated, so that we generated leads (via form fill) and ranked in SERPs. This strategy paid off handsomely; we got nearly five times as many pageviews to our eBooks in 2018 than we did in 2017.

Our blog was now firmly in the driver’s seat of our companywide inbound sales model. We dramatically curtailed our cold-calling, and relied, instead, on our blogs and email to do the heavy lifting. Soon, our sales team was receiving calls from prospects commending our work and requesting more assets.

We’d be remiss to mention that 2017 was also the year we pivoted to custom illustrations and a larger overhaul of our brand image. We killed stock photography and we were proud of it. We celebrated it with this post.

Using custom content marketing imagery, a Brafton client experienced fantastic results!

And here’s a snapshot of the types of blogs we were creating and the visuals that accompanied them:

From this point on, everything we produced was custom and user-focused.

2018: The year of re-optimization

By this point in our history, we as a company had generated nearly 10,000 blog posts, and they lived all over the internet. But it wasn’t always easy to tell whether content at that scale was worth it, especially if posts from 2010 were no longer relevant.

That’s why we undertook a massive movement toward re-optimizing older posts for a modern audience. We had good content, and it was easier to make it better, rather than writing everything from scratch like we had been doing for nearly a decade.

Some of our top re-ops were originally written in 2017 or earlier, like “Financial content marketing that works: 5 ways the finance industry is winning at content.” This post now ranks No. 1 for our target keyword “financial content marketing,” and it has stayed at the top of SERPs month after month.

Another huge win for our Brafton blog in 2018 was the standardization of our weekly news roundup under the name “Content Marketing Weekly.” We post these every Friday, and they help add timeliness and industry relevance to our email newsletters, too. You can find the entire series here.

2019: Onward toward success

As mentioned, our blog became an integral part of our sales and lead gen process. It’s central to our social media and email marketing, and we use it to promote internal progress and new employees, too.

And while digging up older posts and capturing screenshots of days gone by for this article, I came across a few interesting metrics trends.

The volume of pageviews we’ve received to our site over the years has varied quite dramatically, some years spiking, others falling considerably. Seen below is the average monthly traffic our site generated by year. Because our blog page, specifically, has undergone technical and structural changes, tracking its individual metrics all the way back to 2010 isn’t possible, but sitewide traffic is a fair stand-in.

Brafton then and now

As our brand – and our blog – grew, so did our traffic. But in recent years, our internal commercial goals have moved away from raw traffic counts.

We’re not into superficial vanity metrics that don’t mean much, so a loss of traffic isn’t all that big of a deal, because it’s offset by bigger, more quantitative metrics elsewhere.

The traffic we currently receive is much more qualified, intent-driven and sales-ready. And that has translated to more newsletter subscriptions, content downloads, email lists and prospects.

That’s a valuable takeaway.

It’s not about quantity, but quality – in your content, in your traffic, in your leads. At the end of the day, online marketing exists to generate new business, and our blog has come a long way toward accomplishing just that.

So that’s our marketing journey, what about yours?

Mike O'Neill is a writer, editor and content manager in Chicago. When he's not keeping a close eye on Brafton's editorial content, he's auditioning to narrate the next Ken Burns documentary. All buzzwords are his own.