Too often business owners start blogging in the hope that it will drive traffic to their business, only to quickly fall into the trap of posting stale or sales-heavy content that gets no or few views. Then they become frustrated and either blog less frequently or abandon their blog, wondering why they bothered.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. Business blogs, when done right, can help businesses (of all sizes) attract potential customers – and increase sales. Just follow these simple tips from SMB and blogging experts.
[ Related: 11 ways to build your online brand ]
1. Think about and write for your target audience. “Think about the audience you are trying to attract to your blog and share content that is relevant, interesting and valuable to that specific demographic,” says Arsineh Ghazarian, cofounder & CEO, Zveil.
“What are their most pressing questions and what information do you think they would find most helpful?” adds Shawn Graham, founder, Deep Varnish, a strategic marketing consulting firm. “Every post should provide interesting and relevant content and be written with your target audience in mind. If you’re not sure what questions they have, just ask! Doing so creates an opportunity to have a conversation with your readers and that’s ultimately what’s going to keep them coming back.”
2. Create a click-worthy headline. “Think of a headline as a billboard,” says Vincent Scatena, CMO, IMP Corporation, a supplier of new-surplus & used power generation equipment. “If [it’s] eye-catching [enough], people will click [on it] and read your blog. Simply put, the headline is your first impression. Our headlines have gotten us enough attention to be cited on major news outlets. I’m not saying you should put all your focus on headlines—having appropriate content is just as important—but it opens the door.”
3. Skip the jargon – and the sales pitch – and use a friendly, conversational tone. Write as though you are having a friendly, yet professional, conversation with your readers, keeping in mind that many of your readers may not know, or like, industry lingo. And even if they do, they probably don’t want to read something loaded with jargon.
Similarly, your blog posts shouldn’t all read like ads for your product or service.
“Hard sales pitches are a surefire way to ensure a high bounce rate and encourage visitors to look elsewhere for the information and services they need,” says Andy Lindus, COO, Lindus Construction.
4. Answer your customers’ questions.“Ask your sales team and customer service reps which questions are asked again and again and write posts that answer those questions,” says Julie Graff, social content liaison, Pole Position Marketing. “These are also the types of things [people] are typing into search engine queries, so this will help you gain some SEO traction. Not only that, but you will be providing truly useful information your audience will enjoy and appreciate. Doing this also helps establish you as an expert in your field, so even if searchers aren't ready to buy now, they will remember you when they are.”
5. Ask experts to guest post. “Reach out to experts to contribute to your blog about topics where you are not an expert,” suggests Nellie Akalp, CEO, CorpNet.com. “For example, I share tips on running a business as well as various topics relating to incorporating or forming an LLC. When it comes to marketing, social media, HR, accounting and other topics I don’t know much about, but want to share on the blog, I find experts in those areas to contribute a post,” she explains. “We [then] share that post with our community so that person gets exposure. So it’s a win-win!”
“Have a diversity of voices on your blog,” says Eric Quanstrom, CMO, KiteDesk, a sales prospecting tool. “By tapping influencers and experts you bring strong ideas to the table [and] enhance your brand.”
“Look to your customers, vendors and colleagues for guest blogs,” says Armita Ayrempour, marketing manager, MotherG. “For example, we are an IT managed service provider and one of our guest posters runs a software company. We cross-promote the content to both our companies’ contacts, [as well as in] LinkedIn Groups, which significantly increases reach.”
6. Look for trending topics and add your unique perspective. “Instead of just regurgitating the information that everyone else is discussing, put your own spin on the topic, [providing] additional insight or [discussing why or how it’s relevant to your target audience],” says Adam O’Leary, president, Encite Marketing. Doing this “will differentiate your [blog posts] from other articles while capitalizing on the popularity of the subject.” Social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter, as well as “tools such as Technorati and Google Blog Search, can help you find [trending topics].”
7. Vary your posts (trying different formats to see which work best).“You can’t just produce posts hoping they will get picked up, shared and bring leads,” says Ewa Puchalska, outreach manager, GetResponse. “Experiment with different types of content around the same topic: blog post, infographic, SlideShare presentation, podcast, video.” Then be sure to “promote [your posts] and check what works best for your audience.”
Also, “try to publish different article styles to see which ones resonate the best with your target audience,” says Zaki Usman, CEO, Pagezii, a digital marketing app. “Try the regular article format that is meaty and a solid read. Then experiment with an FAQ-style post or an instructional or how-to post. Another favorite of mine is to post a listicle, a shorter article that is in the form of a list.”
“Infographic posts [also] work very well,” he says. “If you opt for this, [just] make sure you use the ALT IMG attribute to tag your infographic. This way the image gets indexed properly by search engines and you get more organic traffic.”
8. Make your blog visually appealing and easy to navigate/search. “Make your layout easy to digest,” says Darren Green, founder & CEO, Roman Blinds Direct. “Sure, it’s great to have a snazzy-looking blog. [But] if it doesn’t look great, it’s not very likely that people will trust you as a source. Break up your text with images to help the reader take a break from all the writing and give them something else to look at. In many cases, the simpler the blog, the more effective it is to draw attention to the written content.”
“Images play a huge role in creating a must-read blog, because they break up the text and illustrate key points,” says Vladimir Gendelman, founder & CEO, Company Folders. “While it's easy to just buy photos, you should always create your own images. Then you'll know for sure that no other blog is using the same image as you, and you can create a signature style that defines your posts.”
Finally, “make sure visitors to your blog can easily find topics of interest [by] sorting and listing [posts] by category [and having a search box],” says Ayrempour. “For example, we have eight categories, including Guest Posts, IT Tips & Tricks and Security. This makes content [easily] searchable.”
9. Blog regularly. “Keep your blog up to date with fresh content on a regular basis,” says Linda Pophal, owner/consult, Strategic Communications. “How often you should post depends on your business and your target audience, but at a minimum you should post at least once a month.”
If possible, write “on your blog at least twice a week,” says Erin Wasson, vice president, marketing, UrbanBound, relocation management software. “The only way for people to get in the habit of visiting your blog and using it as a resource is if there is new information regularly being published.” Just be sure you have something newsworthy, helpful or entertaining to share.
10. Ask readers to subscribe. “A good way to build readership for your blog is to offer a ‘subscribe to our blog’ call to action (CTA),” says Usman. “Make sure this CTA is clearly visible [on your home page and on each post]. You can [also] get fancy and use a lightbox (pop-up style window) to capture readers’ attention as they scroll down to the bottom of the post.” Whatever option you use, make it as easy and as simple as possible for readers to subscribe.
11. Share links to your blog posts on social media. “Direct current and potential clients to your blog by sharing [links to] it on social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest,” says Lindus. Also, “encourage employees to share [posts] on their social media profiles as well, to extend [your] blog’s reach.”
12. Use analytics to find out which posts get the most views. “As you start to gain traction, see which [posts and] keywords gain the most traction, by using either Google Analytics or a CMS, and then target those [topics and/or words] as you continue writing. [This] will help [improve] your organic search,” as well as help you deliver what your audience wants to read, says Wasson.