The Whirlwind Steel Blog: The story behind the digital marketing success

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Whilrwind Steel digital marketing strategist Yasmin Khan.
Whilrwind Steel digital marketing strategist Yasmin Khan.
Whilrwind Steel digital marketing strategist Yasmin Khan. She works for Whirlwind through Bonafide, a Houston online/digital marketing agency.

While Whirlwind Steel won the 2016 Best Construction Blog competition both in popular vote and through the independent judges’ evaluations, the blog’s real success should be more accurately measured by its marketing effectiveness.

A few days ago, I connected with digital marketing specialist Yasmin Khan, who works with Aylin Poulton on the blog. We had planned/scheduled a video interview. It didn’t work — with incredible sound feedback problems which resulted from my failure to properly test the systems before starting the interview. So I went to the old backup — the telephone and keyboard, taking notes. Here is an edited transcript.

MB: Can you describe the blog’s history and it has evolved?

YK: The blog really started in November 2012 after Ty Sturdiavant became president and chief operating officer of the family owned business.

His father, who had been president for 40 years, became the chairman of the board and chief executive officer of the Houston-based manufacturer of pre-engineered steel buildings and steel building components for the agricultural, commercial, industrial, institutional, residential and self storage markets.

He took over responsibility for the company’s online presence.

We started pretty heavy, with five posts a week; after a while, the posts tapered off. We now post three times a week. The quality of the content is getting far better than before. There’s a much better balance.

MB: Do you have observations about the blog’s effectiveness? How many people view the blog? Have you noticed results from it?

YK: Last month we had 17,000 views. As of last year, there is a 130 percent increase in viewership from last year.

I think when we first started the blog it was very narrow, all about metal buildings. Then we realized people coming to the website were contractors, small business owners, and big business owners, and we were able to figure out content to market to people — by targeting to different groups of people.

We blog about sustainability, we blog about marketing, running a construction business, roofing, and natural disasters, and much more.

MB: Has the blog contributed to the business’s bottom line.

YK: It has contributed to increased business to the company. The goal is to get people to the website. There have been better conversions. The number of people contacting us and inquiring about our services, and becoming customers — that has gone up significantly in the past year.

MB: How much work does the blog require?

YK:  The blog is an ongoing process. I have always worked on it. There are a few faces behind the blog. There’s work in coming up with blog topics, then we have a team of marketers, a team of writers, who write and edit the posts, that are set up and linked and look nice and are good to publish. We post three times a week.

MB: Can you say how much work it takes to prepare a post?

YK. Per post, it probably requires 10 hours of research and writing.

MB: So that suggests you are spending about 30 hours per week on the project; or about three-quarters of a person-year to maintain the blog, with three posts a week

YK:  It doesn’t feel that much.  The work is spread out over a few people so it isn’t a huge strain on our resources.

MB: I realize there could be commercial confidentiality issues here, but could you provide any indication about the volume of business you are receiving that you can directly attribute to the blog.

YK: I’d rather not go into that level of detail about the results. It is definitely worth doing, considering the return we are getting.

MB: What would you say has been your biggest challenge with the blog, and how have you handled it?

YK: The biggest challenge is the website, and the way it looks. The website is kind of dated for the calibre of the content — the style of the site isn’t conveying it. We have redesigned the entire website. It is much more suited to the business here and there.

At time of posting this interview in early May 2016, the new site hadn’t been launched, but Yasmin’s colleague Aylin Poulton had provided a preview of it to Construction Marketing Ideas.

MB: If you could give advice to other non-competing organizations about blogging, what you be your suggestions?

YK: My advice is the big thing is making it work for you and attracting visitors is to know what is trending in the industry, to have a good idea of who your audience is and what they are looking for, and finely tuning the results all the time You should see what is popular (by assessing the reaction to previous posts), and be aware of seasonally whats’ popular, and technologically keeping up. It’s an ongoing process.

MB: Can you describe your most successful postings?

YK:  Yes. One in March 2013 on Tips to Prevent Condensation in Metal Buildings has so far attracted 20,000 views. And another about insulating steel buildings has had 17,000 views. (Insulate Your Steel Building: Everything You Need to Know; Oct. 2015.)

metal buildings condensation
This blog posting on tips to prevent condensation in metal buildings has drawn more than 20,000 views since 2013 — and is Whirlwind’s most popular post. You can see how this topic would enhance the company’s expertise reputation and would help in attracting worthwhile business leads.

I wouldn’t say these topics were pegged to be super popular. It’s one of those pain points. People are searching for information on these problems. That’s part of our strategy — that is always the end goal — they tap into the pain points and see where they are living through the problems.

MB: Where do you think the blog will be in the future?

I think the future of the blog is where we are right now. Three posts each week — that’s the sweet spot. The industry will continue to evolve with fresh topics to bring on to the blog. We are thinking of inviting some guest posers onto the site, and maybe providing guest posters for other sites. By inviting guest writers on the site, everyone may be more involved.

Although Khan and, in earlier conversations Alyn Poultin focused purely on Whirlwind, and their email signatures only identify and associate them with Whirlwind, a web search indicates they are associated with Bonafide, which describes itself as “an online/digital marketing agency based in Houston, Texas that works with growth-minded businesses nationwide. We help companies find new customers on the internet using market research, search engine optimization (SEO), content marketing, pay-per-click advertising (PPC), social media, PR, technology and more.”

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