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From Erratic to Effective: The Story Behind the Zapier Blog in 2013

By Wade Foster · December 30, 2013
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Building out a blog as a marketing channel isn't easy. There are a few companies that make it work for them (such as HubSpot, Unbounce, Moz and Buffer), but most company blogs languish away.

At Zapier, we are no different. Our main customer acquisition channel(s) have traditionally come from places other than our blog. Though we all enjoy writing and have traditionally kept a semi-active blog, we have mostly used the medium as an outlet to write about things we want to write about and not as a way of generating customers.

But this past June, I decided it was time to get serious about the Zapier blog. I wanted to figure out what we could do to change our blog from being a hits-based blog reliant on Hacker News for traffic, to a valuable resources for our current and prospective customers. The goal was to build a sustainable readership on Zapier that keeps people coming back for more.

And while the Zapier blog isn't yet playing in the major leagues with the likes of HubSpot and Moz, over the last few months it's definitely gone from rookie ball to AA baseball.

Here's the story of the Zapier blog in 2013 along with some of the best posts of the year.

For context: We founded Zapier in October 2011 and published our first blog posts that same month. Our most-read post of all time has yielded over 25,000 unique visitors.

January - March: 16 Posts, Small Readership

Is Anybody Out There

At the beginning of the year, Zapier blog readership was small. Some might even say non-existent. But we did have some Twitter friends and were fairly active on Hacker News so a few of our posts took off, including this attempt to newsjack the Google Reader shutdown and a solid piece on simple UX improvements for SaaS products.

Hacker News posts are like a dopamine hit though. The traffic is intoxicating, but once the post rolls off the home page the traffic disappears and the audience doesn't stick with you. Moreover, the audience isn't necessarily a great fit for your product. And though there are overlaps between Hacker News and Zapier users, our real goal is to reach a broader audience than internet hackers.

It was clear that if we wanted to really grow our readership we needed to try some different tactics.

Top 3 Posts of the Quarter

  1. Make Your Own RSS Superfeed

  2. Software For Humans: Eliminate Annoyances

  3. How to Stay Productive, Even When the Power Goes Out

April - June: 13 Posts, But Some Successful Experiments

Hiring With Trello

As quarter two rolled around, it was time to experiment with content on the blog. But where to start?

I re-examined the blogs of Moz, Unbounce and others and came to the conclusion that if we wanted to ever have a blog that matches them in readership we needed to up our content game. We needed to kill the 500-word fluff posts and start introducing some serious meat to the blog. If our blog was a meal, it needed to be a top cut of beef—a filet mignon, not a sirloin steak.

And while the first few posts of the month didn't hold up to that standard, by the end of the month we had a few posts that proved higher quality content is the way to go. It even resulted in the top post of the year: How to Manage Remote Teams.

Top 3 Posts of the Quarter

  1. 21 Months In - How to Manage A Remote Team

  2. How to Turn GTalk into a Command Line for Anyone

  3. Resume Overload? How DoSomething Screens Job Applicants and Finds the Perfect Intern in a Stack of 300 Resumes

July - September: 4 Posts, A Failure of Inconsistency

Mike w/ Google Glass

With a little bit of success under our belt and a roadmap for turning the blog into a channel we could rely on, it felt like a good time to bring on some help.

But during our search for the first content marketer at Zapier, we forgot something really important—actually putting out content. What little momentum we'd built from big hits like How to Manage Remote Teams, we were unable to capitalize on in the following months.

Our only saving grace was that we had some good products use cases come out, including the Google Glass launch and a great customer video.

Top 3 Posts of the Quarter

  1. Google Glass gets Connected to 200+ Services

  2. How to Automate a Web Consulting Project from Start to Finish

  3. How to Run a Company Retreat for a Remote Team

October - December: 19 Posts, And A Model For Success

Do Work Like a Superhero

Destined to not repeat mistakes from the past quarter and with Danny Schreiber manning the editorial reigns, this quarter has been our best yet for the blog.

With an elevated emphasis on consistency, there's been a record 20 posts this quarter with 9 coming in December alone. With the renewed dedication to quality and relevant topics, readership has gone up steadily, too, including a 1,340% increase in blog email newsletter subscribers this past quarter.

Top 3 Posts of the Quarter

  1. How to Give a Talk

  2. The Insider's Guide to the New Zapier, now with 250+ Supported Services

  3. 10 Can't Miss Productivity Apps Released in 2013

The Top 12 Posts of the Year

And for those of you who simply just want to see the top posts on the Zapier blog of the year, here you go!

  1. 21 Months In - How to Manage A Remote Team

  2. How To Give A Talk

  3. How to Turn GTalk into a Command Line for Anyone

  4. The Insider's Guide to the New Zapier, now with 250+ Supported Services

  5. Google Glass gets Connected to 200+ Services

  6. How to Automate a Web Consulting Project from Start to Finish

  7. Make Your Own RSS Superfeed

  8. 10 Can't Miss Productivity Apps Released in 2013

  9. Remote Working: 8 Items for Every Remote Worker's Wish List

  10. The Ultimate Guide To Selling Downloads With Zapier

  11. How To Build Culture In A Remote Team

  12. How to Build a Repeatable Enterprise Sales Process with LinkedIn

The Plan for 2014

There aren't any plans to slow down in 2014. Plans for 2014 include:

  • Designating a theme for each month (this strategy is part of Duct Tape Marketing's great "Total Content System")

  • Experimenting selectively with a guest post every month or two

  • Extending the life of select posts by turning them into slideshows, case studies or other types of content

  • Sharing the results to help others learn from our success and mistakes

And that's a wrap on 2013. What suggestions do you have for our blog in 2014? Please share in the comments below. Or if you have a company blog lesson learned to offer, we'd love to hear those, too!

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A Zap with the trigger 'When I get a new lead from Facebook,' and the action 'Notify my team in Slack'