So you’ve seen data on the advantages of blogging. You recognize the potential for increasing traffic to your website and generating more leads. You’ll commit to posting blogs regularly. Way to go! There’s only one little problem: What are you going to write about?
It’s easier than you think to come up with topics to populate your blogging publications plan. Here’s a starter list to trigger brainstorming:
- Answer questions that come up in sales calls, customer service interactions, and/or third party forums
- Respond to common customer complaints
- Provide a perspective on industry trends based on what you’re seeing in the market
- Summarize third party research; add your two cents
- Conduct your own survey and share findings (with charts and commentary) in multiple posts
- Comment on recent news – e.g., changes in regulations, new players, mergers, product announcements, etc.
- Provide check lists, guides, best practices
- Share a recent experience
- Invite colleagues to lend their expertise in complementary products, services
- Identify great resources on the web; share links with your readers
- Write “How To” content; demonstrate your prowess in a video blog
- Offer customer success stories
- Respond to provocative editorials, articles, third party blog posts
- Write a provocative editorial!
- Amplify your recent press release
- Summarize content from articles or white papers that you’ve written; provide links to the source material
- Write a book report; help your readers decide whether or not it’s worthwhile to read it for themselves
- Follow popular industry blogs (or consumer review sites) and read the comments; summarize key themes
- Create Top 10 lists (or Top 7, or Top 12, …)
- Choose a long tail keyword for which you’d like search placement and work it into a blog
Are there other types of posts that you’d add to a publications plan?
I’ve written several posts on WHY you should consider blogging and HOW to make the most of this tool. So it’s only fair that I help you avoid blogging mistakes.
Here’s my top 7 list:
- Uninspiring title. Readers make choices about whether to read blog posts based on titles. Make sure yours are engaging and descriptive.
- Too much content. Folks want “quick hit” advice. Keep your posts short (single topic) and use bold print to make the content scannable.
- Too much jargon. Write like the popular professor, not the class know-it-all. Use a friendly, familiar, respectful tone.
- No image. Posts with pictures get more play than ones without them. Make a connection between the image and the content. (Be creative!) Honor applicable laws.
- No invitation to engage. Your readers have ideas, opinions, questions, and comments that may interest others (and expand your horizons!) Put out a welcome mat to encourage contribution.
- No response to comments. Community engagement is a gift. If you’re lucky enough to get folks to enter the conversation, be courteous enough to return the favor.
- No call to action. If you’ve done the hard work of attracting visitors to your site, “make them an offer they can’t refuse.” The specifics will depend on your business model and their place in the sales cycle. Examples: free consultation, industry survey, white paper, product discount, gift card, etc.
Do you read or write blog posts? What are your “pet peeves”?
One of my colleagues posed that question during a promo for one of my workshops. He got a good reaction from the crowd (and yours truly). I didn’t hesitate with my response: “YES! Blogging is like jogging!” Here’s why:
It is good for you.
Folks who blog regularly get more inbound traffic to their websites and generate more leads from their visitors. People – and search engines – reward fresh, relevant content.
You need the right “tools” to give you the most benefit.
Creative juices and solid writing skills certainly head the list of effective blogging tools! Beyond that, you’ll need applications that help you:
- Choose long-tail keywords wisely
- Create, edit, categorize, and post blogs
- Engage readers in lively dialog (while filtering out the spammers)
- Make it easy for folks to share entries
- Track results
You must persist to reap the benefits.
You need to post regularly to get noticed by search engines and build an audience. The more you blog, the bigger the boost to inbound traffic and lead generation.
Scheduled work habits work better than random will power.
Establish a rolling 3-month editorial calendar that lists your topics, keywords, blog titles, calls to action, and target publication dates. With that in hand, make appointments with yourself to write and publish your posts. Absent this discipline, it’s really easy to put it off… and put it off… and pretty soon you’re not blogging anymore.
You need to develop a rhythm and style that work for you.
Blogging works best if it isn’t “painful.” If you struggle with writing, build a handful of templates into which you can weave your content. As you gain experience, you’ll get more creative while still keeping your writing time within acceptable boundaries.
So… are you ready to run?
I delivered a workshop on blogging at the Beaverton Area Chamber of Commerce Business Matters gathering last week. Most attendees to these monthly sessions are small business owners looking for ways to market their products and services. I opened the talk by sharing the 5 primary reasons why businesses blog:
They have information or expertise to share.
Successful bloggers know their target audience very well. They understand their readers’ needs, problems, and interests. They focus on meeting their informational requirements with the right content in the right medium at the right time.
They want to drive traffic to their websites through organic searches and referrals.
Each post can be optimized for a specific long tail keyword – e.g., Beaverton long term care insurance provider. By featuring a long tail keyword in the content, the blogger increases the chance that the post will rank among the top 10 listings on a search engine results page. Those listings get the highest number of clicks. Moreover, readers are far more likely to refer their friends and colleagues to a blog post than a web page. When a critical mass of readers shares a link to a blog post, it elevates its ranking on search engine results pages.
They want to develop a following.
It takes fresh content to get visitors to return to a website regularly. A regular stream of blog posts satisfies that need. And when readers respond to invitations to comment, the blogger gets valuable feedback on what they’re thinking.
They want to convert casual visitors into customers.
Many bloggers create product or service offerings tailored to the contents of their posts. It encourages readers to take action once they have read the content. [Note: Weekly bloggers get ~150% more leads through their websites than non-bloggers.]
They want to make effective use of their marketing dollars.
Companies that invest money to improve their organic search results, stimulate direct traffic to their sites, generate referrals, and bolster their presence on social media enjoy higher lead-to-close ratios through these channels than traditional outbound marketing channels (e.g., direct mail, telemarketing). And the cost per lead can be one-half to two-thirds less!
Great blogging requires targeted, well-written content and a commitment to post regularly. It also takes a bit of effort to build your readership. But you can do them – and yourself – a favor by sharing your pearls of wisdom.
Back in 1989, Kevin Costner starred in a renowned sports-fantasy film in which a down-on-his-luck Iowa farmer hears a voice whisper, “If you build it, he will come.” Believing that he has been asked to construct a baseball diamond, he plows under part of his corn crop and builds the “field of dreams.” This act of faith draws a collective of famous ballplayers, a long-lost family member, and the entire community to the farm. It’s a classic Hollywood, feel-good film.
When I talk with folks about blogging, there’s a strong “field of dreams” sensibility. They’ve seen the statistics on the benefits of blogging – more inbound links, more website visitors, more indexed pages, more customer acquisitions – as discussed in an earlier blog post. [See “To Blog or Not To Blog.”] They think that all they have to do is blog once or twice a week and they’ll start hearing their cash registers ring.
Let me add a word of caution to this unbridled enthusiasm. According to the latest statistics from blogging.org:
- There are 42 million blogs in the U.S.
- There are 500,000 new blog posts and 400,000 comments every day
- 60% of businesses have a company blog
That’s a staggering amount of content! With millions of options from which to choose, what do you need to do to help readers find their way to your “field of dreams”?
- Create content using keyword-rich text to increase the chance that your posts will land favorably on search engine results pages. [I offer some hints and tips in a post entitled “Use Long Tail Keywords in Web Content.”]
- Post regularly. Search engines and readers favor consistency.
- Place links to your blog on your website, your business cards, and your email signature line. Let folks know that you’re publishing.
- Post blog entries on social networking sites. Encourage your family, friends, colleagues, customers, and prospects to “Like” your Facebook page and “Follow” you on Twitter.
- Contribute to third party blogs that cover your industry or subject area. Some will give you the option to track comments back to your blog. If you offer substantive commentary that others find useful, you may draw readers to your site. [Make sure you’ve earned your stripes with the community before you attempt any form of self-promotion.]
- Stay with it for the long haul. Industry pundits say that it takes at least 50 blog posts before there’s a material bump in activity.
Are you ready to start blogging?
If you’re new to blogging or you simply want to sharpen your skills, here are some blogging best practices to help you reap the benefits of this on-line marketing tool.
- Create “remark-able” content. Focus on topics that interest, illuminate, help, and/or entertain your target readers. Make it worthy of commentary and passing along to others.
- Choose a central idea as the focal point for your blog. Identify a long tail keyword (e.g., “how to cultivate hybrid tea roses”) to use in your blog’s URL, meta tags (keywords, description), title, content, and “alt” tags for images.
- Spend time developing a great title. If the title isn’t attention grabbing, your prospective readers will take a pass on the content.
- Use a familiar, respectful tone for your posts. Write as though you’re in casual conversation with a friend or colleague who values your opinions and/or needs your advice. Avoid jargon, over-used words/phrases, and needless exaggeration. Steer clear of insider information and “trash talking” about your competitors.
- To the extent possible, pare your content down to 200-400 words. Avoid long paragraphs. Make white space your friend.
- For longer posts – especially the occasional 400+ word entry – summarize what readers will learn at the front of the post. It should give them an incentive to dive in… or at least skim the surface.
- Use bold print to highlight key concepts so your readers can scan your posts quickly. [Search engines give more weight to bold print when they scan your text.]
- Always include an image that relates to your central idea or a key concept. Blogs with images are read more often than ones without them. It can be a photo, chart, graph, cartoon, or video link. [Give proper credit when you use someone else’s work!]
- Create keyword-rich links to relevant internal and external content. Internal links encourage visitors to explore your site. External links demonstrate your mastery of the internet “library.” And search engines take special note of linked text.
- End with a call to action that relates to your topic. Possibilities include: (i) promotional offers for your products or services; (ii) invitations to register for upcoming webinars; (iii) encouragement to comment on the material or contact you directly; and, (iv) links to other valuable material.
- Post all relevant feedback – even comments that aren’t flattering. You and your readers will benefit from all viewpoints.
- Respond to comments and requests for contact.
Are you a blogger? What practices have helped increase your readership?
If William Shakespeare had been born in the late 20th century, he might have posed a different question in the opening soliloquy of Hamlet, Act 1, Scene 1. For the noble Prince of Denmark may well have endured the “slings and arrows” of anonymous respondents to innocent Internet posts and wondered if it was all worthwhile.
For the organization that seeks a committed following, a regular stream of leads, or simply better placement on search engine results pages, the question of whether or not to blog has been answered. Organizations that blog at least once a week get:
- Twice the number of website visitors – each post is an opportunity to optimize a page for a specific long tail keyword that a web visitor might use to fund you
- Substantially more inbound links – people are far more likely to create a link for a blog post than a standard web page
- Two to three times the number of web-based leads – the number of leads is proportional to the frequency of blog posts
Of course, in order to reap these benefits, your blog needs to deliver useful information that folks are eager to read and pass along to others. What constitutes “useful information”?
- Commentary on major trends, events, or news items in your industry – e.g., the impact of healthcare reform on small business owners
[These posts establish you as a thought leader.]
- Answers to frequently asked questions – e.g., what’s the best way to get rid of weeds in my lawn
[These posts draw readers to your site at the precise moment when they need help.]
- Best practices – e.g., 10 key elements of an effective job description
[These posts establish you as an experienced professional whose opinions carry weight.]
- “How To” content – e.g., step-by-step instructions for linking Facebook and Twitter entries
[These posts help your readers and their associates solve problems.]
- Bold opinion statements – e.g., “diet and exercise are overrated”
[OK, I don’t really believe it, but if I could defend that statement in a blog, I’d surely generate a lot of comments. Thoughtful participation benefits the community and adds to the blog’s readership.]
As with most disciplines, blogging takes a bit of skill and practice. If you’re game to give it a try, check out the blogging best practices.