These days, it seems business blogs are everywhere. And why not? They’re simple to set up, and they’re a great way to promote your products and services. But here’s the real question: Do they get results?
Only if you do them right, says author Mark Satterfield. While anybody can key words into a template, it’s not so easy to create a professional blog that reels in potential clients and keeps current ones engaged. You have to strike the right tone, come up with great topics, know how to hold a reader’s attention, and more.
“Most compelling business blogs have several structural elements in common—and once you know what they are, they’re fairly easy to replicate,” says Satterfield, author of the new book The One Week Marketing Plan: The Set It & Forget It Approach for Quickly Growing Your Business.
Satterfield, who has spent the last two decades helping clients grow their businesses, says blogging can be a valuable way to establish yourself as a thought leader. Each time you publish a post, people searching for any keywords it contains will be drawn to your site, where they may sign up for your email list and buy your products or services. And it’s easy for readers to pass along interesting or controversial posts to their friends, fans, circles, and followers.
“I recently acquired a major client all the way from Australia because of a blog post,” Satterfield shares. “And my dentist says she gets a new patient for every few blogs she posts—and those are only a few examples. So yes, the time, thought, and energy you put into strategic blogging can have an incredibly positive ROI for your business.”
In The One Week Marketing Plan, Satterfield shares actionable strategies and real-world wisdom to help entrepreneurs set up a successful, sustainable niche marketing plan in just five business days. (Yes, really!) Here, he spotlights eight structural elements that will help you create a compelling, business-driving blog:
Know what your readers care about. First and foremost, successful blogging is all about offering value to your readers. It doesn’t matter how flashy or funny or well-written your posts are if they don’t provide useful information or answer readers’ questions. People aren’t interested in self-serving pontification; they’re looking for resources to enhance their lives. Keep this principle firmly in mind when considering all of the following tips.
“Specifically, I advise you to not only consider what your target audience cares about, but also to think about the words and phrases they’re likely to use when searching for that information,” Satterfield suggests. “Be sure to include these keywords (judiciously, not exhaustively!) in your headlines and copy so that your posts will be more likely to show up in the first few pages of search results. This is one component of search engine optimization, or SEO.”
Find your voice. (And make it an engaging one!) If your goal is to drive readers away or put them to sleep, write in dense “corporate speak” and use a lot of industry-specific, arcane phraseology. Oh, that’s not your goal? Then the tone of your writing should be more entertaining and approachable, even though you’re primarily talking about your business.
“If you read your blog post aloud and conclude that your words would turn an in-person meeting into a snooze-fest, think twice before hitting ‘publish,’” advises Satterfield. “In fact, when you’re creating posts, aim for the tone you’d strike in a one-on-one conversation with a prospect or customer you already like.”
Banish blogger’s block with a list of compelling topics. Consistently creating compelling content (say that three times quickly!) is a challenge for a lot of bloggers. So that you don’t find yourself facing blogger’s block, it’s smart to have a broad understanding of what readers generally find interesting.
“I suggest making a list of posts you want to publish so that you can work on them when inspiration strikes (and so that you can have a lot of content in the can for a rainy day!),” Satterfield says. “Be sure to keep a constantly evolving record of any new ideas that come to you. I use a program called ‘Evernote’ that enables me to keep all of my ideas readily available.”
Tap into current trends. “Google Trends” (http://www.google.com/trends/) is a valuable tool that lets you know on an hour-by-hour basis what the most popular searches are. If you write a timely post centered on one of these trends, you may get a quick traffic boost to your blog.
“As a busy business owner, you can’t constantly monitor Google trends, ready to churn out a relevant post,” Satterfield acknowledges. “But whenever you can link a trend to your business, do so. Because itis a trend, you know it’s something many of your readers are already interested in and familiar with. Think of it as a topic ‘freebie.’”
Get (somewhat) personal. Just because it’s a business blog doesn’t mean it has to be all business. Sharing select details about your personal life can get you a lot of mileage because it accelerates the “know, like, and trust” factors that are crucial for building relationships. The trick, says Satterfield, is to relate these details to your business—like the vacation you just took to the Bahamas, where you collected shells on the beach with your daughter, which reminded you of an important premise you wanted to share with your clients.
“Or it could be the movie you just saw, the restaurant you just ate in, or the conversation you just had with a client,” he notes. “Sprinkle these moments in from time to time, and your blog will have plenty of personality—trust me!
“Recently, I was creating a video blog and had just recorded a great take, only to find that my cat Sam had walked across the back of the sofa I was sitting on, stopped above my head, yawned, and then walked off,” he recounts. “Part of me thought I should do this over again. But instead, during the editing process I inserted a card that read, ‘Well, that wasn’t very professional, was it?’ after Sam made her appearance. Suffice it to say, the response was much greater than normal, and somewhat to my surprise, universally positive. Granted, I wouldn’t do this every time, but it does underscore the benefits of taking your work, but not yourself, too seriously.”
Channel your inner Seinfeld or Silverman. Your readers probably sought out your blog post because they were looking for specific, maybe even technical information, insight, or advice. But that doesn’t mean you should shy away from humor, whether it’s tame or even slightly risqué. Like most humans, your readers will appreciate a good chuckle—and more to the point, they’ll be more likely to remember your business because you made them laugh.
“You know your target audience and what they will generally respond well to, so trust your instincts and adjust your approach going forward if need be,” Satterfield instructs. “Just keep in mind that your primary function isn’t to be funny, and always bring the joke back to business.”
Watch your word count. In general, try to write posts that fall between 300 to 500 words. Many social media experts agree that 300 words is the minimum number necessary to get SEO benefits for your blog. (In other words, don’t count on shorter posts to affect your ranking in search results.) And once you go past the 500-word mark, you may be in danger of “losing” some readers’ attention.
“We live in a fast-paced world, and on the Internet especially, there are endless shiny objects that can ‘steal’ a reader’s attention,” Satterfield points out. “That’s why it’s important to hone your ability to say something of substance succinctly. If you do need to use more than 500 words, break your post up into Part I and Part II, using the same headline. You’ll get twice the SEO bang for your blog!”
Give them something to look at. We live in a visual culture, so spice up your posts with pictures. This will make them more interesting and memorable to readers. But don’t rely solely on stock content; post original photos or graphics from time to time and caption them with SEO-friendly keywords, which will boost your blog’s rankings.
“If you’d like, you can even embed videos in your blog posts,” Satterfield says. “Whether you’re sharing a clip that showcases a product you just launched or videoing yourself talking directly to the viewer about a topic of interest, visitors to your blog will appreciate the multimedia approach and may share your videos with their own circles.”
“If you follow these guidelines, you’ll maximize your chances of bringing all kinds of new people into your business life, while also (hopefully!) having fun,” Satterfield concludes. “And best of all, the power of writing a regular blog goes beyond building a brand for your business and attracting new clients. If you do it consistently, your blog becomes a powerful tool for cementing relationships with your existing clients and thwarting the attempts from your competitors to poach them.”