August 17, 2017 / Blogging, Content Marketing

Pro Blogging 101: An Inside Look at Blogging for Business



Pro Blogging 101: An Inside Look at Blogging for Business

Visit nearly any business website today and you’re bound to find a blog. When it’s done right, your blog can be a powerful tool for your business. It can:

  • answer customer questions
  • uncover client needs
  • answer questions about your products and services
  • delight visitors to your site
  • generate qualified business leads

Blogging can seem almost deceptively easy. How hard could it be to throw a few words up on a page, right?

Wrong.

If you’re lucky enough to possess the necessary skills to write technical or persuasive copy, you’ll still need to understand the nuances of getting people to read it. And if you’re lucky enough to get them to read it...then what?

If the ultimate goal is to convert customers using your blog, and make no mistake—this is more than possible, it’s going to take more than a few pretty words and some stock photography to get the job done.

With this guide, we’ll cover the basics of blogging for your business, including:

  • What is a blog, anyway?
  • The benefits of a blog for your business
  • What should you blog about?
  • How to map out your blog topics
  • Why an editorial calendar is important
  • How to structure your blog
  • How long should a blog post be?
  • Optimizing your blog post
  • How many images should your post have?
  • Promoting your blog post to the right audience
  • What not to do with your blog

Let’s get started.

What is a Blog?

A blog is a website or webpage featuring constantly updated entries, typically organized in chronological order from the most recent entry backwards.

When blogs first appeared online in the 1990s, they were in the form of personal online diaries known as “weblogs.” As these online journals increased in popularity, they began to be known simply as “blogs.”

In the 2000s, blogging underwent a major transformation from online diary entries into big business. Bloggers began to monetize their blogs while journalists and major news outlets began to take blogs seriously; in 2009 the White House started its own blog.

Takeaway: Don’t make the mistake of thinking blogs are simply for college kids who want to chronicle their daily lives. It’s not the 90’s anymore - blogging has been embraced by government entities, news outlets, journalists, and businesses of every size in every industry.

What are the Benefits of Blogging for Business?

Blogs are now an important marketing tool that businesses can use to help bring more people to their website, and to help convert that increased traffic into qualified leads. Your blog also provides a unique opportunity to earn the trust of someone who has just visited your website for the first time -- a benefit that is practically priceless.

Let’s imagine that your business sells handmade flip-flops made from an eco-friendly vegan “leather” made from mushrooms. You’ve recently written a blog post titled “10 New Vegan Leather Alternatives to Try Right Now.”

Across the country, someone sits down with their tablet and begins a Google search for “vegan leather alternatives” and finds your blog post. Now you’ve got a new visitor to your website, reading your blog post and finding the exact information they’ve been looking for.

If you’ve done your job right, this website visitor isn’t reading a sentence or two of this blog post and then bouncing off your website. Instead, they are diving deeper into your site: reading more blogs and possibly visiting your product page.

They’ve decided they like what you have to say and they want to know more. Maybe they sign up for your email newsletter, or maybe they bookmark their favorite pair of mushroom-leather sandals to look at again later.

They may have even decided to find you on Facebook or Twitter and follow you there, as well.

One single blog post has the power to bring more people to your site. But the best part is, your post can bring in more qualified traffic -- the people specifically looking for the products or services you provide.

What Should You Blog About?

Ok, so you’re on board. You definitely want to bring in more traffic and get more qualified leads. But what in the world should you blog about?

Before you publish a single word on your business blog, it’s important to understand one very important thing:

Nobody likes a pushy salesperson.

If the only thing you can think of to blog about is how great your service or products are, you aren’t ready to start blogging just yet. Because today people will go to great lengths to avoid a direct sales pitch.

After all, do you watch TV commercials, or do you skip right past them with your DVR recorder?

If you want information about a product, do you sit around and wait for an advertisement to play on the TV, or do you hop on your tablet/ cell phone/ computer and seek out the answer to your questions?

The same is true for your online visitors.

They will come to you for help them solve their problems or if they want your recommendation. If you blog about the right things in the right way, your visitors will see you as a trusted authority.

But first you have to avoid scaring them away with an overly aggressive sales pitch.

Your blog is not an advertisement for your product, brand, or service.

So what is it?

The digital marketing community has rallied behind the four pillars that should drive your blogs. Everything you create should fit squarely into one of these four categories. A business blog:

  • Educates
  • Informs
  • Entertains
  • Inspires

Notice that “hit ‘em hard over the head with an overbearing sales approach” is nowhere near this list.

Now that we’ve steered you into the right direction, let’s map out what exactly you should write about as you educate, inform, entertain, or inspire your blog readers.

A Logical First Step: Begin with Keyword Research

Real simple: a keyword is the word(s) or phrase that you type into a search engine when you’re looking for information online.

Things like “dog groomer,” “pizza delivery,” or “vegan leather flip-flops.”

If you want to be found online, you’ll want to be aware of the keywords that could bring qualified, interested customers right to your virtual front door. Begin by making a list of the keywords you think you want to focus on. Let’s imagine again that you’re selling those fabulous eco-friendly alternative leather sandals.

What do you think people would be searching for to find your products?

List of Keywords

How do you come up with more keywords and related keywords to add to your list? While there’s many keyword research tools that digital marketing and SEO professionals rely on to compile keyword research, many of them are paid resources.

Don’t forget to include your brand on that list. People may be searching for your brand or business name directly!

Now it’s time to expand that list.

For every keyword, there are related keywords and phrases that you can also include.

List of Related Keywords

But there’s a free resource that you can use any time you’d like: Google.

When you start to type a word or phrase into the Google search box, Google’s autocomplete function will begin to return search predictions. Predictions are made based on factors such as freshness and popularity of a search term. In other words, Google reveals search phrases related to your keywords that are trending and popular - so take note!

At the bottom of the search results page, Google also provides “related searches” information. Check it out:

List of Related Searches

You can mine plenty of excellent keyword ideas just by typing your initial list into Google and seeing what else the Big G recommends as related to your search.

Next, Build Your List with Concepts and Topics

The next step is to build this initial keyword list out even further by brainstorming topics and concepts around each keyword. Here’s an example using one of our keywords above:

Keyword: Leather alternatives

Topics:

  • Innovative new leather alternatives
  • Why you should consider leather alternatives
  • How leather alternatives help the environment
  • Best leather alternative shoes and accessories to buy this spring/ fall

Expand your list and write out an additional five topics or concepts for each keyword.

Now you’ve got a massive list of keywords, topics, and concepts that you could blog about. But we’re not done yet.

Refining Your Topic List by Identifying Your Audience

Who are your writing for? When we put together a digital marketing strategy for our clients at GROW, persona development is a crucial part of the process.

Persona development is the process of creating an archetype of your ideal customer.

You may not realize it, but you probably have a mountain of information about your current customers at your fingertips. Start by talking to your sales and customer service teams. When you can, survey or interview existing customers. Dive into your existing analytics to uncover even more information about your website visitors and customers.

The deeper you can dive into your persona research, the better your blogs will be. Don’t stop at demographic information such as the age, sex, or location of your customers. Really get to know them.

  • What do they care about, what are their interests, what are their concerns?
  • Who do they trust for information, and what social media platforms do they use?

Use what you know about your current or potential customers and refine your list of potential blog topics. You may find that some of your initial topic ideas don’t really fit with your persona findings. And you may have some brand new topics to add to your list now that you have a better understanding of the things your customer cares about.

Don’t be afraid to wander a bit out of your comfort zone, either.

Blogging about your own products and services is easy. But if you can expand your list of blog topics to cover that sweet spot where your own products end and your customer’s interests begin… that’s where the magic starts to happen.

Diagram of Achieving Balance in Blogging

When you can speak to the things that are important to your ideal customer, you can start to become a trusted authority in their eyes. You’re beginning to nurture a real relationship with them.

And that will payoff in the long run.

Getting Organized: Why an Editorial Calendar Can Keep You On Track

Now you know who you are writing for and what sorts of topics to blog about. Now it’s time to get organized and methodical. Digital marketing professionals rely on editorial calendars to keep themselves on track.

The good news is…your editorial calendar can be as simple as a single-page spreadsheet. Create a column for your blog topic/ title, another for your keyword, and one for your publish date.

How often should you publish a blog?

Consistently publishing new content on your website is a good thing, to put it simply. So pick a writing/ publishing schedule that works for you. One to two blogs per week is a great place to start.

By outlining your topics and organizing them by publish dates, you can ensure that you are regularly getting blogs published, covering all of your keywords, and you can see what sort of important dates are coming up if you want to tailor blog posts around special events, holidays, or industry happenings.

How to Structure Your Blog

There is a vast amount of information available to us. More than 2 million blog posts are published every day. More than 30 billion pieces of content are shared on Facebook every month, or approximately 1 billion per day.

Because of this intense information-overload, the way that we consume information has evolved.

People will look at your headline and decide in a microsecond if your blog post has the information they are looking for. Then, they will scan your blog post to see if it can deliver.

So your blog post needs to be structured in a way that will help them as they quickly scan and look for information.

Do:

  • Break your blog content into sections using headers to organize information.
  • Write shorter, more “digestible” sentences and paragraphs.
  • Use bullet points and numbered lists whenever possible.
  • Use catchy headers and headlines that encourage readers to read further.
  • Deliver on the promise of your blog title.
  • Use images, graphics, and charts to help get your point across.

Don’t:

  • Write long chunks of text that aren’t broken up with headers, bullets, or images.
  • Try to impress your readers with complicated sentences.
  • Write boring headers.
  • Mislead your readers with a title that doesn’t match up to your blog content.

Tip: More and more people are getting their information on a mobile device. They are using their smartphones or tablet to search for information, browse Facebook, and read blog posts. When you’re writing your blog post, try to keep that mobile experience front and center.

How Long Should a Blog Post Be?

What’s the ideal length of a blog post? 500 words? 3,000 words? The answer is simple:

Your blog post should be as long as it needs to be, but no longer.

Sound cryptic?

Don’t write a blog post with a word count in mind. Your blog should be a utility for your readers. They are looking for information about a specific topic, and your post should give them the information they’re looking for.

Don’t worry about word count. Worry about…

  • Delivering on the promise of your title.
  • Providing all of the information someone may be looking for on that particular topic.
  • Not straying off topic.

Maybe your blog post is 500 words and a few paragraphs. Maybe your post is an epic 5,000 words. Most likely, it will fall somewhere in between. (The blogs that we write for our clients typically fall between 800 and 1,800 words.)

CAUTION:
Don’t try and push your blog to the extreme limits. Stay on topic. If you have a lot of information to cover and need to split a post into a 3-part or 5-part series in order to stay focused on a single topic for each blog, do it. We’ll talk a little more about why you need to stay on topic in the “what not to do” section, so keep reading to find out why.

Optimizing Your Blog Post

Search Engine Optimization (SEO): the technical process of improving your search result rankings.

SEO is crucial to your website content, whether it’s a product description, webpage copy, images, or blog posts. Following SEO best practices will help searchers find your post (or page) organically.

SEO is a complicated topic, and there’s no way we could even begin to cover everything you need to know in one small section of a blog post. But there are a few rules that you can apply that will help the search engines find your post, understand its relevance to a topic, and help propel it towards the top of the search results.

SEO Rule #1: Write for people first, not search engines.

The rules of SEO are always changing, but if you stick to this first tip you can’t lose. Real people are looking for your information and reading your blog post. Don’t get so wrapped up in trying to please search engines that you overlook this important information.

If real people like what you have to say, they will...

  • Spend more time reading your post.
  • Visit more posts or pages on your site.
  • Share your post on their social media accounts.
  • Become return visitors.

And guess what? All of those factors start to signal to search engines that your website is relevant and popular. And that has a positive effect on your rankings. And that’s good SEO.

Here are some basic things you can do to help improve your rankings, as well. Some basic SEO best-practices that can help you optimize your blog:

  • Make sure your blog title and URL match and contain your keyword or topic.
  • Keep URLs short and simple.
  • Include your keyword or topic in your title tags and meta descriptions.
  • Don’t forget to include alt tags for images.
  • Include relevant links (both internal and external) within your content.

Many of these best practices help search engines to understand what your page is about. When you include your keyword or topic in your blog title, URL, title tag, meta description, and image alt tags, for example, you are giving the search engines a very clear signal of what that post is all about.

Don’t get overwhelmed with optimization. It’s a very complex subject matter, and the rules are constantly changing. Remember to write for people first, stick to one topic with your blog, and help search engines understand your content by optimizing titles, URLs, title tags, and alt tags.

How Many Images Should Your Blog Post Have?

People love visuals. A picture or graphic can tell your reader what your post is all about in a split second. The brain processes visual information 60,000 times faster than text. Images are also a great tool to break-up chunks of text in your blog post, making it more digestible and scannable to your audience.

Blog posts with images get 94% more views than posts without images.

Be sure to include a minimum of one high-quality, relevant, and interesting image in each blog post. Use graphics, charts, infographics, or other visuals wherever it makes sense or will help you convey your information.

But you don’t need to go overboard.

Be sure you don’t distract from the overall user experience with poor quality images, visuals that don’t make sense, or graphics that don’t match up to your branding and website quality, either. This blog post may be someone’s first impression of your business, so make it a good one.

How to Promote Your Blog Post to the Right Audience

Your blog has been written, includes a great image or two, is optimized, and published. Done and done, right?! Wrong.

Don’t fall into the “If I write it, they will come” mentality.

Help your audience see your blog post by promoting it after it’s published. Here are three easy ways to get your information out in front of your audience:

  • Email your post to your current list of subscribers.
  • Share your post across your social media accounts.
  • Mentioned an industry influencer in your post? Let them know about it!

Tip: Don’t post your blog on Facebook or Twitter one time and then forget about it. You can continue to promote your content long after it’s been published. You could tweet that blog post out to your audience multiple times a day; just write an original tweet for the post each time you re-promote it.

What NOT to Do with Your Business Blog

We’re wrapping up our “business blogging basics” primer with a few gentle reminders of what not to do with your blog. We’ve touched on these earlier, but they are important enough to reiterate again.

Don’t be a pushy salesperson.

Your blog is not an advertisement for your product, brand, or service. Don’t try to cram a sales pitch into every post. You may write blogs that never even mention the thing your business offers, and that’s ok. There will be plenty of opportunities for you to educate customers about your product, answer the questions your sales team hears the most, or to talk about what makes you different from the competition.

Think of your blog as a utility for your ideal customer. Give them information. Entertain and delight them. Be informative. Inspire them in new ways.

Don’t wander off-topic.

Stay focused. This is crucial for both user experience and search engine optimization.

Search engines want you to find exactly what you’re looking for. So search engines “crawl” your blog posts and webpages, looking at a number of different factors and signals to try to determine what that specific page is all about.

And you can help the search engines determine what your blog post is all about by honing in on a specific topic or concept.

If you’re writing a blog post and trying to cover 15 different topics in that one post, you’re diluting what that post is all about. You’re essentially making it difficult for search engines to understand the intent behind your post, and as a result, no one is ever going to find it.

You can write as many blog posts as you need. You can write a multi-part series if you have a lot of information to cover. Break your huge, expansive topic into mini topics, and write a different blog about each one.

Don’t lose sight of your audience.

Always remember who is on the other end of your efforts. Write for your customers. Understand what their needs are, what they care about, and how you can help them. You’re not blogging for a search engine robot, you’re trying to earn the trust and attention of an actual person.

Don’t expect immediate results.

Here’s something you may not have expected. It may take a long time for that blog post to bring your business a tangible benefit. Over time, that blog post will bring in more traffic to your website, exposing your brand, product, or service to more qualified leads. But it may not bring a spike in sales that first week.

Blogging for business is an important part of your overall marketing strategy, and the results of your efforts are rarely instantaneously. Blogging works, but it works over time. Blogging is a marathon, not a sprint.

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