Why you should write a business blog and how to do it right
James West of Perfect Motion is a journalist, editor and blogger. He explains to entrepreneurs and business owners how blogging helps you find new customers online - if you blog with purpose.
When I speak to business owners about blogging, the most common objection I encounter is 'Why'? It's a valid question: what is the point of blogging for business?
Many people think blogging for business is pointless because they perceive it as an online diary - an electronic record of an individual’s musings. While diary/lifestyle blogs are legitimate and popular, they represent one distinctive type of blogging. And unless your business is especially personal or lifestyle-driven, this type of blogging is unlikely to offer much value.
Different types of blog
A blog can be a diary. But it can also share knowledge, advice, ideas or just simply exist to entertain. To change your perception of a blog, rename it 'article'. In the context of business, 'blogs' and 'articles' mean the same thing, but an article suggests weight and value. When you write blogs/articles that help people, three important things happen:
Blogging improves your reputation
When you share useful information, you/your business becomes an authority in your field. For example, if you are a financial advisor, you might write a blog explaining how the Budget will impact investments and pensions. By blogging about this, you give value to your audience and build your authority. If you share blogs of this nature on social media, it alerts your followers and connections that you are an authority, and if they then share your blog, you effectively gain access to their network which further enhances your reputation as an expert.
Blogging improves your SEO
Blogging is one of the key criteria that search engines consult to differentiate websites. Using our example of the financial advisor, the post-budget blog will attract readers via social media/newsletters or people stumbling across the site. Assuming the blog is good, the reader will stay on the page and consume the content.
Search engines use this activity to prove the value and quality of your website. In other words, your website search engine ranking, e.g. the position you appear on Google, will improve relative to the content of your blog. To consult our financial advisor example one more time, his/her website ranking will improve in relation to financial investments and pensions.
Using blogs in this way is called content marketing. You can do some really clever things with content marketing by finding out the questions that people ask online and writing blogs that directly answer these. You can also 'boost' your ranking by writing blogs about the correct topics.
Content marketing is a tricky and complex yet rewarding marketing activity and I could write a book about it! If you want to learn more, come along to an ONLE meeting and we'll have a chat - our training sessions regularly discuss blogging and our members help each other improve their skills.
However, blogging doesn't have to be complicated, certainly in the beginning. As long as you blog, share some of your knowledge and position your blogs correctly, you will improve your reputation and SEO. And most importantly, from the perspective of business owners, it will help you win more business.
You win more business
Enhancing your reputation makes it easier to start conversations with prospects and convert these into business. Enhancing your SEO helps encourage people to visit your site which, assuming your website converts traffic into meaningful activity, will lead to more business being won.
Once you flip the concept of blogging away from 'sharing your thoughts' and towards the strategic purpose of blogging, the value of doing it for business becomes much clearer. Once you've understood the business purpose of blogging, the next step is to do it right.
Headline and intro
I mentioned earlier the importance of positioning your blog. You may have written the most informative article related to a particular topic, but if you people aren't attracted to read it, it will be a waste of time. Therefore, your headline and intro are crucial.
Successful blogs tend to share a style of headline, which we'll look at soon, but first, we'll look at the type or category of your blog.
For example -
"How to build a new garden fence"
"7 ways to make your business grow faster"
“Why every business should fear the latest tax laws"
“How much money can you save by automating customer service?”
“6 new Netflix shows you don’t want to miss this summer”
“The most exotic overseas festivals for 2018”
These titles not only illustrate different blog types, they also show the type of headline and subject that tend to attract readers. Because most blogs are discovered by people scrolling through social media, the headline has to 'jump out' of the cluttered timeline. It has to be succinct and tell people what they will gain in exchange for their attention.
This style of headline writing is quite different from the newspaper headlines of old, which tended to be more abstract and pun-driven, rather than the literal type of header which works online.
As a traditional print journalist, I had to ‘unlearn’ headline writing to make the leap into blogging. The headline was always the last element added to the page when a story was printed. But now, I advise looking at the headline much earlier in the writing process. If the headline is interesting and grabs the attention, the more likely it will be read.
This messaging must continue into your intro as that is the second thing that people will read. It should enforce and expand on the headline and crucially, it must tell the reader what they will learn.
Warning: when you’ve written a headline and intro, make sure your blog answers the question you have asked or delivers the information it promises. There’s nothing more frustrating than reading an intriguing looking blog which doesn’t offer what you were expecting.
Which leads us onto the next piece of advice.
Write for your audience
Radio and TV presenters are taught to imagine the person they are talking to. They know the person’s name, where they live, their age, what they are interested in, the kind of language and tone that appeals to them. The idea is that if you know who you are talking to, you deliver your words in a more consistent and relaxed manner. If that person is a good representation of your audience, your voice will resonate with others. Terry Wogan was famous for this approach, making his audience feel like they were part of his family sat at the kitchen table with a cuppa.
This tactic is useful when writing.
Who are you writing for? What is their level of knowledge? What language do they understand? Understanding this is crucial, otherwise, your blog will fail to appeal to the right people.
For example, if you’re an accountant, don’t write as if you were talking to other accountants. Don’t use abbreviations or make in-jokes which only accountants will understand. And I’d also steer clear of talking about the fine details of accounting too much either.
This last point may seem counter-intuitive. Surely customers want to know about tax affairs? But if you think about it for a second, most business owners don’t want to know about the nuts and bolts of accounting. That’s why they have an accountant. Therefore, they couldn’t care less about the latest regulation or change to the tax codes.
You tell them they should consider buying a car before April because of a tax hike. Or if they could save £2K per month if they change to a flat rate of VAT. Good blogging is about sharing your knowledge in a way that interests your audience. Talk to them - not your colleagues.
Five commonly asked questions
This is the most effective way for a business to create a list of topics to write about. Ask yourself this question: what are the five questions you are asked most frequently in a professional capacity?
So if you’re a landscape gardener this might be:
• When is the best time to plant flower x?
• How can I make my lawn look better?
• What’s fashionable in landscape gardening now?
• Why do my plants keep dying?
• What quick maintenance tips do you have?
If you write down your top five questions, you have a rudimentary blogging plan. Five questions to answer = five blogs. These ideas have been tried and tested - if people ask you them in person, you can guarantee they are asking them online.
If you answer these questions well on your blog, you will attract readers to your website. If they don’t know you, great, you have successfully captured a new marketing lead. If they already know you, great, you’ve reminded them you are still around and how helpful you are. You’ve also given them the nudge they needed to give you a call about work they keep forgetting about.
“Why would I give my knowledge for free?”
I’m often asked this question, so following my own advice, I’ll answer it! While your knowledge is precious, protecting it won’t help you. Because if you don’t answer these questions online, one or more of your competitors will.
The internet is a source of virtually endless knowledge so the idea that you can protect your knowledge is laughable. So rather than hiding, it’s best to face this fact. Be the person who is helpful and knowledgeable online. Sharing your knowledge will get your people onto your website, boosting your Google ranking in the process. And best of all, you build trust with prospects and customers.
You can’t share EVERYTHING you know online. There will always be areas of expertise that are too detailed to explain online and services which don’t translate into a blog. But sharing your base knowledge - the five questions you most commonly answer - is the perfect way to help others, attract attention and engage people in those conversations that lead to sales.
Blogging for business is about attracting new customers and reminding customers you are still there and adding value. You don’t have to be an award-winning writer to take advantage of blogging. But you do need to offer something to your readers and giving some of your knowledge freely is a great way of doing this.
If you want to learn more about blogging for business and other online and offline marketing skills, come along to an ONLE Networking group, we have training on topics like this every month.