Digital marketing has been changing the face of customer acquisition since the early years of the internet. In this new marketing landscape, small business owners must be forward-thinking and creative with their tactics in order to stay competitive.
Blogging is an essential digital marketing tool, and one with an incredibly low barrier to entry.
This article is a short primer on how to start blogging for your small business. I will share my insights into what makes a small business blog the most important tool for bringing in new business and building a brand.
My First Blog
My first foray into the world of blogging was not exactly a success. In 2010, a couple of friends and I decided to start a company to sell board games. We didn't have enough money to invest in traditional marketing, so we decided to blog as a cheaper alternative.
We jumped straight in without much forethought, which was our first mistake. We assumed that all we had to do was write blog post after blog post, and that the magic of the internet would do the rest. It didn’t.
Our next mistake was disregarding who our target audience was. We believed that the core audience for our blog was board game enthusiasts, but as we later found out by browsing the comments section, most people that read our posts knew very little about board gaming. We could have known this in advance if we had bothered to research our competitors’ blogs (which we didn’t - our third mistake).
Another major mistake was writing content describing the games and their rules based on manufacturer product descriptions, thus providing readers with little new information. We also updated our blog irregularly, so our readers never developed a habit of visiting our blog. Another issue was that we were only using text in our posts while promoting products with a strong visual component. Plus, we never bothered to share our blog posts on social media or through email, which meant that people had a hard time finding them.
While our blog was a complete failure (and we ended up closing the company soon after), we learned a few valuable lessons in the process which I will now share.
1. Define Your Goals
Blogging in a traditional sense refers to the practice of publishing informal, diary-like posts on a website without an overarching goal in mind. In contrast, blogging as a marketing strategy requires more planning. Define a concrete goal you want to accomplish within a specific time frame, then research topics and come up with an outline based on your goals. For example, your goal could be to increase online traffic to your website by 20% in the next 6 months. Deciding on a set of goals upfront will allow you to track progress and measure the results of your blogging efforts.
2. Determine Your Target Audience
Let's take the example from the previous paragraph and say that you want to increase inbound traffic to your website. To do this, you would need to create content that appeals to a certain subset of internet users and define their demographics and interests.
Your existing customers are a good place to start. Use a CRM system to aggregate customer data into one place, and start searching for patterns. Focus on demographic information (age, sex, location, etc.) and purchase patterns (average spending, purchase frequency, etc.), and try to come up with a set of ideal customer personas. These hypothetical individuals will be your primary target when creating content.
3. Research Your Competitors
Your blog doesn’t exist in isolation. It is a part of a larger network of blogs managed by competing businesses. This is both an advantage and a disadvantage. On one hand, you will find it harder to make your blog stand out when your competitors are trying to do the same thing. On the other hand, you will have an easier time determining the type of content audiences are looking for in your particular niche. By performing competitor research, you can learn about popular topics, optimal blog post length, preferred writing styles, etc. But don’t fall into the trap of thinking that conforming to the mainstream is the best way to achieve success – sometimes it pays to go against the grain and publish content that breaks the rules.
4. Provide Value to Readers
In order to work as a promotional strategy for your business, your content has to provide value. Otherwise, your prospects will have no incentive to pursue further relationships with your business. A piece of blog content can be valuable in several ways. The primary value you can provide is information on a topic your readers find interesting. Value can also take the form of practical guidance for solving a problem your readers often encounter. Even entertainment can be a form of value, especially if you are interested in reaching out to younger readers.
Whichever form you decide to use, the point is to give your readers something in return for their time and attention. Readers will take this as a sign of goodwill on your part, and will be more inclined to consider your call to action.
5. Publish Consistently
Consistency is another important aspect of blogging. It is the key to long-term reader investment. Consistency can be expressed in two ways. One has to do with the regularity with which you update your blog: if your blog doesn’t provide content on a regular basis, your visitors won’t develop a habit of visiting it. The other is related to your ability to maintain a consistent writing style, tone of voice, and level of quality. If you attempt to do something different with every post, you will always risk alienating parts of your audience. From a small business perspective, it is more effective to focus your blogging efforts on creating uniform content and publishing it on a regular basis.
6. Enhance Your Content With Visuals
The main type of content used for blogging is text, but this shouldn’t prevent you from using other types when it’s appropriate. In fact, adding visual elements to your posts can make your blog far more effective by presenting its key points in a concise way.
For instance, if you’re writing a guide on how to use a particular software tool, it can be helpful to provide screenshots, illustrations, animations, or short videos demonstrating what the reader should do. You can use visuals for your email marketing, or for social media promotion of your blog.
These tricks will help make your blog aesthetically appealing, and they will help you create a unique branding experience. Another helpful visual aid is the infographic: graphs, maps, charts, and tables can help you present data in a more digestible form.
7. Promote Your Content
Your blog can’t exist without content, but content creation is not all there is to blogging. You will also need a method for diverting online traffic to your blog. In other words, you will need to establish a content promotion strategy. There are three main channels you can use to organically promote your blog content online: search engines, social networks, and email. When your blog is indexed by a search engine, you will be eligible to receive organic traffic, and you can bid for advertising space in the sponsored section. And on social media, you can share links to your blog content on your business page, as well as promote it through social ads. When it comes to email promotion, you can notify your subscribers about your latest content updates through an email newsletter.
Blogging Success Stories
We started the article with a sobering tale of blogging gone wrong. So, in order to balance things out and end on a high note, I now present two blogging success stories! In contrast to my own initial attempts at blogging, these companies took a more calculated approach to the matter, and were rewarded for doing so.
In my mind, Beardbrand is a perfect example of how hard work, passion, and a little bit of luck can lead to success.
In 2012, Eric Bandholz had an idea after a beard competition event. He wanted to unite all bearded guys in one bearded community, where they could exchange tips, styles and experiences on how to achieve the ultimate beard.
He started with a YouTube channel and a Tumblr account, but after the publication of a New York Times article which mentioned his business, he opened up shop for quality beard products.
The website is visually appealing with focused and well-written content. With just a few articles per month, the website became an authority in the world of beards and manly things. This is a great example of quality going further than quantity. Bandholz’s articles range from 2000 to as many as 7000 words, and they are very helpful for the Beardbrand community. Maybe the longer the beard, the higher the appetite for reading!
One of the first blogs I had the honor to contribute to, SingleGrain still holds a special place in my imaginary guest-posting trophy room. It caught my attention with its peculiar origin story. Once a failing marketing company, it was bought by Eric Siu for the amazing price of $2. The price seems like a typo, I know, but the information on their about page is very convincing.
The blog is divided into sections: SEO, PPC, Content Marketing and more. It also has a very visible, easy-to-find search bar. Below the search bar are the social media links with small numbers tracking how many followers, likes and subscribers they have. One thing I really like about SingleGrain’s blog is that the first thing you see is the headline of the last article they published and the ‘’Read full article’’ button.
This may seem obvious, but the image below shows how effective strong visuals can be!
This draws the attention of the reader and, at least for me, wakes up a vague feeling of guilt if I don’t click on it.
Towards Success, One Blog Post at a Time
Blogging is one of the most effective promotional strategies small businesses have at their disposal. The main benefit of blogging is the fact that it provides value up front to potential customers, giving them an incentive to develop a relationship with your business. Running a successful business blog requires planning, research, consistent execution, and adequate promotion, all of which we have covered in our guide. Mastering the art of business blogging takes time and effort, but the rewards in terms of industry authority, brand awareness, lead generation, and sales will make it all worthwhile in the end.