Marketing. Essential for your business growth but beset with jargon, false promises and a plethora of options. Do you pay someone else to do it all for you or do you try and do it yourself? And how do you find out what’s going to work and give you the best return on your money?
Well, one of the simplest answers to the marketing dilemma is to establish a blog for your business. In a nutshell, they are a cost-effective way of building brand awareness, showcasing your expertise, improving your search engine results, discretely promoting your values and USPs, and attracting new leads and potential clients.
The golden rules of blogging
Sounds good eh? But before you start writing, wait a moment please because we need to get clear on a couple things:
- In order to work, they’ve got to be done well, and consistently well – you can’t just ramble on about how brilliant you are, or blog once every six months.
- How often you blog will depend on you or your business but once a month is rarely often enough.
- You’ll need to do some research before you can be sure of the best frequency.
- What you blog about, how you write and promote your blogs are also all central to success. It all forms part of an effective blog strategy without which you may as well not even bother. And don’t worry, I’ll deal with blog strategy in a bit more detail below.
- You’ll need to learn a few other key skills – like a little bit about SEO, writing, formatting, and analytics but don’t panic because I’ll also explain more about all those in a moment or two.
So why blog?
Ok, before we get stuck into the technical details of how to blog, let’s just put some flesh on the bones of why you should blog. After all, lots of people blog and you’ll hear it described as a crowded landscape or “Well it didn’t work for me” or “I don’t see the point”.
Just take a moment to think about what you do when you search for a new supplier or product or if you want to know something. Chances are you go online and enter something into the search bar of your browser. That brings up a selection of results which will include websites, ads, images and well blogs actually.
You’ll probably scan the search results and click on the one (probably fairly near the top) that seems to feel comfortable, relevant and right. You might go on and flick through a few websites.
People are looking for what you offer
And people are doing the same searching for your product or service, or for information or knowledge that you have. By having a blog, you’re giving yourself a better chance of being found.
What’s more, if they like your blog, they might spend 5 or 10 minutes reading it (time spent on your website and search engines like that). And if they read it, they might then flick onto another page or blog post on your website and have a browse around there too. That’s not only good in the world of being found by search engines but you’re showcasing your expertise, and potential clients are getting to know you as they read!
Increasing your chances of getting found
Having a website with a regularly updated blog also looks good. One of the first things I do when I go to a website is check out its blog, mainly to see how recently they’ve blogged so I can get an instant feel for how current the website is.
If they haven’t blogged in a while, I usually click away. Search engines do a similar thing. They know which websites haven’t been updated in a long time and which ones are up to date and being read by people. And they’re going to show the latter in any searches before they show the former. So that means when people search for something you’ve blogged about, you have a better chance of showing up in the results.
Giving yourself an even better chance of being found
There are also a few things you can do, both within the blog itself (on page) and under the bonnet (in the back end of your website) which will increase your chances of being found by search engines and shown to the people that are looking for you. It’s called search engine optimisation (SEO) and you’ve probably heard all sorts of half truths about it. But don’t switch off.
Not the dreaded SEO?
It’s a massive subject <!–(so much so that we’ve written a separate post about it)–> but there’s a lot of smoke, mirrors, jargon and unnecessary complexity attached to the phrase SEO.
You can make it as complicated as you like, but the good news is that you can also keep it relatively simple and still achieve quite a lot without too much pain. With some simple optimisation of your blog posts (choosing the right keywords and using them appropriately in your content, linking to other sites, writing your meta data properly) you can significantly increase the chances of your blogs being found. A little more about this in a moment.
How often do you get the chance to discretely show off?
But the real joy about blogging is that you get to show off but in a subtle way. Your potential clients need something… they may have a problem, a desire or need, they may want information, products, services or help. And compared to them, you know an awful lot about the solution to their problem.
Imagine that you have a problem with your website. Perhaps it’s glitching, not attracting any visitors or is really slow to load and keeps freezing.
You’ve got a problem
You’re googling away about your problem and you come across Bob. Now he could just fix your website for you (and he will if you ask) but he can also tell you about why it went wrong, what you can do to prevent it going wrong in the future, how you can make it even better, what alternatives you may have etc.
He’s got the answer
These are all areas of his expertise that he can blog about – it’s stuff you need to know, and he knows already and is happy to share. ‘Wow’, you think to yourself as you read his posts, ‘what a knowledgeable and helpful guy’. Then you look at the competition which has no blog and doesn’t share any helpful information and you think, well Bob’s the one for me.
And you like his style
Now imagine Bob has a very distinct personality and business ethos. He’s young, fun to work with but very reliable. There’s something ethical about him too – he doesn’t just take your money but advises you about when you can do stuff yourself instead of shelling out. You notice that he also dedicates a proportion of his time and money to supporting good causes and he’s quite funny. And all this is expressed not by him telling you directly (because let’s be honest, that would be quite irritating) but in the way in which he writes.
And so the magic begins
As you read his blogs, you gradually feel like you’re getting to know him and what sort of bloke he is, what he’s like to work with – all before you’ve even spoken. His personality becomes one of the deciding factors as you choose who you’re going to use to help fix your website or perhaps even build a new one. And Bob hasn’t had to do the hard sell when you do finally pick up the phone to speak to him. In fact, you feel like old friends. That is the power of a blog!
Share and share alike
Inevitably, your business has some kind of social media presence. And once in a while (maybe every day in fact), the person in charge of it is going to say, “Well what shall we post / tweet / share today? I’ve used all our cute kittens and staff photos.” And you respond, “Use our blog”.
A good blog will contain lots of useful material and apart from sharing the link to your blog on social media (and more about that anon because you must not just repeatedly post a link to your blog), you can share lots of little snippets from your blog by way of a teaser.
Pass it on
And if your blog is interesting, people will like it and then they may share it with other people who they think might find it interesting or useful. Spreading the word about you on your behalf. And a good blog can carry on working quietly behind the scenes this way, attracting attention for months, even years.
But what’s the secret to blogging well?
OK, so I hope you’re getting the picture. Most of the time, blogging is about brand awareness, reputation and getting found. It is NOT about selling, especially hard selling.
So how do you do it well? Well, it all comes down to having a good blog strategy.
Key ingredients of your bogging strategy
The key ingredients to you blogging strategy will be:
1. Know yourself
You’ve spent money on your business branding and now, if you haven’t done it already, you need to spend time applying that to your writing (and if you haven’t invested in your branding, it’s time to go back and do that now).
When you write for your business, you need to write with personality. That doesn’t mean you have to be laugh out loud funny or the next John Bishop or Michael McIntyre, but your readers should be able to get a sense of who you are and what you’re like from reading your material.
Your personality should be apparent from your website, your blog, your social media and everything else you write and really is just an extension of your branding. But if you’ve got more than one person writing for your business, making sure they all write in line with this is important. Yes, they can display elements of their own individual personality, but it still needs to be consistent with the brand. So, as an obvious example, if you’re a funeral director with a serious style, having one member of the team who always writes slightly flippantly, is not going to cut it. It just jars.
Your writing style may take you a while to establish. It may evolve. That’s ok. But start the ball rolling by following good practice:
Create a writer’s guide
This falls into 2 parts.
Part 1 of your guide – style
By this I mean how you will punctuate, what words you will or won’t use, and how you will format your writing. So:
- Will you use contractions? – Can’t instead of cannot. I recommend you do, except in very limited circumstances.
- What words are “you”? – Do you describe your business as cheap, affordable, budget? Are there any words you would never use?
- What about titles and subheadings? Will you capitalise the first letter of each word in a title or not?
- What’s your formatting preference? Do you always double space your paragraphs? What font do you use and what size? How many spaces do you allow between paragraphs?
- Will you write 4 or four? Double inverted commas “like this” or single ‘like this’.
As you start to write, you’ll come across more examples. If you make a note of what you do and how you punctuated something each time, you’ll gradually build your guide so that anyone can pick it up and start writing in a way that is consistent with your brand style. Often there’s not necessarily a right or wrong answer or way of doing things, it’s just personal preference. You just need to make sure you’re consistent.
Part 2 of your guide – personality
Large companies spend many months and many thousands of pounds putting writing guides together but once again, there’s a lot you can do with a good dose of common sense and a little thought. Start by asking yourself the following questions:
- What are your company values? Reliability, perfection, speed, integrity?
- What is your company personality? At this point most people say professional but fun so try and go a little deeper. One exercise to try is to ask yourself if you were a car, what kind of car would you be?
When I did this, I wanted to answer that I’d be a 2CV (if you don’t know what one of those is – it’s French and very quirky and when I owned one, it broke down a lot!) but I know I’m more reliable than a 2CV. In the end, I concluded I’d be a VW transporter van. Why? Because I’m reliable, a work horse but slightly bohemian just like the transporter’s cousin, the VW campervan. Ask the same question about you and your business – and remember, even if you’re a one-man band, your business and you still have different personalities.
- What is your company’s back story and message? How did the business come about? What motivates you?
- Finally think a little about tone and mood? This can be a tricky one to explain but think about your different moods. When at a funeral, you’re sombre. At a party, upbeat – I hope. At work, you’re more serious and when you deliver that presentation, I hope you’re a little inspirational. What tone and mood do you want your blog to have?
The above may not result in a definitive, award winning style guide but it will give you a very good basis and starting point to work from. It will also save you lots of time, using it as a reference every time something comes up – especially if you’ve written it all down in one document.
2. Know them – those people you want as clients
Getting to know those people you want to attract as clients will be an ongoing process and the more you know about them, the better your blogging will be. You want whatever you write to really resonate with them, so that they feel like you know each other, that you share values, experiences and approach to life. That’s the ultimate goal even if it takes you a little while to get there.
Mapping their day
That means the more you know about them the better. How old are they, how much do they earn? Are they middle class, working class? Where do they go on holiday?
Another great exercise to do is to divide a piece of paper in 4. Put a little smiley face in the middle and give it a name. You might use a client you already have, in fact the best client you have. Label the 4 parts of your page as follows:
In their normal day:
- What do they see?
- What do they say?
- What do they hear?
- What do they feel?
As you answer these questions, start from the moment they get up and go through the whole day to what keeps them awake at night when they go to bed. Ask yourself, what do they see on their way to work and what do they see when at work? What to they hear at breakfast? What do they feel when they leave work or when they meet their boss? What is the last thing they say when they leave the house?
Of course, it’s not always easy to answer these questions. You may have to guess, and you should definitely do some research. Because the fuller the answers, the more you can fine tune your writing so that it resonates and connects with them.
You can never do too much research into Joe Bloggs, your ideal client. Find out where they hang out on social media and see what they talk about. Join groups they belong to, commission research, ask questions and interview people. Whatever methods you choose to use, the more the better.
The key to success with all this is, that when you understand your own brand and you understand your ideal client, you can fuse the two together in a way that works wonders!
3. What do you blog about?
The simple answer to this is that you write about stuff that your target audience needs or wants to know, and your content (what you write) should always be interesting, informative or entertaining. You have to take the focus off you as a business and ask yourself what your audience is interested in. And you have to provide them something of value. That means you need to avoid short, shallow blogs about a subject the world and his wife has already written about. You need to go in deep and provide them with something unique or really helpful.
If you keep the above as your benchmark, then the sky is the limit as to what you write about. How to guides, interviews with industry experts or celebrities, case studies (or case stories as I prefer to call them), reviews, product comparisons, industry insights (if your audience, rather than you and your competitors, are really interested in them), uplifting stories, the list goes on.
Get together with your team and brainstorm all the things you know or could learn that your audience would like or need to know. Keep a file of ideas and add to it whenever something pops into your head. You will often find that as you start to write about a subject in depth, it leads to all sorts of ideas about other topics you could cover.
4. How often, how much and where to post your blog?
This will depend on your business and the results of your research.
When it comes to the length of your blogs, consider
- To cover a topic in depth, you normally need at least 1,000 words and probably more. Longer posts also perform better when it comes to search engines. Gone are the days when 250 to 500 words suffice.
- How much time have you and your team got? You need to write regularly, so work out how much time you can realistically afford to put towards research and writing.
- What about your readers? How much time have they got? If they commute to work by train, they may have half an hour twice a day when they read. Or maybe they have very young children in which case, they may grab 5 minutes here and there throughout the day.
How often should you blog? Well to some extent, some of the answers to the above will help answer this question. Ideally weekly, or even more frequently but it will depend on the nature and size of your business and your target audience. Does your audience have an appetite for daily posts from you? Or is weekly or fortnightly more than enough?
You also need to have a plan for re-posting. You don’t want to write a blog, publish a link to it on social media and then never mention it to the world again. Work out when you could or should re post it, for those who missed it first time round.
Where do you post your blog once you’ve written it? I’m afraid once again, this will depend on the nature of your business and your target audience. You will need to research where your audience hangs out. Then you probably want to choose 2 or at most 3 social media platforms where you know they are. You might also consider sending an email to your database (provided you have their permission to do so) to let them know you’ve written a blog.
What do I mean by trimmings? I mean all the little things that will make your blog shine and a success!
- Formatting. You need to make your blog easy on the eye and easy to read. That means you need lots of white space, short paragraphs and short sentences. You need to have sub headings, that sign post the reader and it needs to be nicely set out.
- Title. You need a killer title and don’t under estimate how hard they can be to write. 80% of people won’t read beyond the title, so give it plenty of thought and try and hook your reader in.
- Images! Lots and lots of words can be unappealing. You need to include images or graphics to make your post more interesting and visually appealing.
- Keywords. You need to consider what keyword/s you want your blog to rank for. So what word or phrase do you think people might use to search for your blog. This can require a lot of skill and research but start by applying some common sense.
And once you’ve identified your keyword or phrase, you need to use it naturally throughout your blog. Don’t overdo it and include it in every sentence – that’s a killer but do try and include it at the beginning, near the end and in a sub heading (or 2).
- Meta tags. These are the bits of code that help your post get found by people and search engines. Most website and blog platforms make them easy to write – if you have WordPress, the plugin called Yoast will help you. They are the bits of writing that show up in the results if you search for something. And as you know, when you search for something online, you normally skim read the first page of results and choose the one that seems most relevant. You can see how important these snippets are… and yet they are often neglected. <!—We’ve written a separate post on how and what you should write, here, if you need more help.–>
- Links to other sites and pages. Ideally, you want other reputable websites and blogs to link to your post and you may want to link the different blog posts that you write to each other. The point of this is to enable readers to easily click to another post that they are interested in and that in turn, keeps them on your website, which helps improve your sites performance. A word of warning however about external links… there are people out there who will offer to get you lots of links to your site. Be careful about this. There are respectable ways of getting back links which will help your website but there are also a lot of “tricks” which will end up doing your website an awful lot of harm. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
Creating an effective blog strategy inevitably involves an element of trial and error. You do need to do your research beforehand but, just as importantly, you need to monitor how your blog performs and tweak your blog strategy accordingly. If no one ever reads your blog which you post at 9am every Monday morning, try a different day or time. If one blog attracts loads of likes and one dies in the water, analyse them. What do you think was the reason for the success and failure? Are you a big hitter on LinkediIn but a complete unknown on Facebook? Could that be because your audience isn’t on Facebook?
Use all the analytical tools available – whether that’s Google or the different social media platforms that you use. Make it part of your blogging routine.
A process to enjoy
If all the above seems a little daunting and a lot to take in, don’t worry. With careful planning, a good routine and a large dose of commitment, you will get into the swing of things. You should even enjoy the process – it’s a chance to write creatively and to stand back from your business.
If you do need more assistance, advice or support, we’d be delighted to help. So just pick up the phone or drop us an email at [email protected]