How to create a blog that will really benefit your business

With content King, there’s more reason than ever for your small business to be online. Here's how publishing content can help get you noticed...

Surely it goes without saying that if you have a business, that business should have a website. But registering a domain name and launching a non-transactional ‘brochure’ site to tell people about why you exist may not be enough.

It’s a good start, granted, but it will remain a static fixture almost undisturbed by the casual browser looking for what you sell, unless you make yourself heard. And that’s where a company blog comes in. Before you say you’re not a wordsmith and don’t want to waste your time writing, consider the potential benefits.

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A well-written blog not only injects life and personality into a company’s website, it also provides a means to engage existing customers while creating a deep well of content that will show up on search engines and ultimately attract more traffic.

Think of it this way, an average non-transactional website might consist of a small number of useful but essentially static sections – ‘About us’, ‘What we offer’, ‘Our team’ and ‘How to find us’ are four typical examples.

These sections are often stacked with information but once a customer has paid one or two visits to the site, there is no real incentive to stop by again as the content doesn’t change. Add a blog, however, and everything changes.

Whether updated twice a week or a couple of times a month, a blog provides an opportunity to talk directly to customers. It’s a means to provide insights into the market, offer updates on products, share customer stories and – perhaps most important of all – build a brand by demonstrating the vision and values that underpin the business.

Content is king

There are essentially two ways to drive traffic to a website. The first is to reach out to customers via advertising, social media campaigning and PR. The second is to use content as a honeypot to draw customers in.

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Content marketing can be expensive, if for instance, your strategy involves creating high production value videos. But it can also be done cost-effectively by putting a blog at the heart of your online real estate.

As you write your blogs – week on week and month on month – you’re not only telling interested customers more about yourself, you are also giving them a reason to return. But the benefits don’t stop there. If your blog talks about subjects and products that matter, not only to your existing customers but also to the wider market, then people will begin to find your site when they browse on search engines such as Google or Bing for information. That means more traffic to your site, more engagement and, hopefully, ultimately more sales.

Or to put it another way, by starting up and maintaining a blog, you are moving into the content marketing businesses.

As Keren Lerner, founder and CEO of digital design and marketing agency Top Left Design puts it: “Every blog that you write adds to the content on your website and that improves your position on search engine rankings.”

Defining your message

It’s important to begin with a clear plan and the first step is deciding what you want your blog to say about your company. Lerner, who blogs regularly on her own company’s site as well as advising others, recommends starting with a focus on messaging.

“I tell people they should come up with three things about their companies that they want to convey through the blog,” says Lerner. “In the case of Top Left Design what we want to get across is that we do great work, we educate our customers and we are a fun and friendly team.”

Each company will have its own core messages. For instance, an IT or data centre business might choose to emphasise that it understands the challenges facing its customers, that it offers bespoke solutions and that the business offers cutting edge technology and know-how.

Planning content

So how do you turn that core messaging into engaging content?

One approach is to educate existing and potential customers. For instance, online accountancy provider sets out to help its customers understand concepts that may not be totally familiar.

“On the Xero blog we focus on communicating and demystifying information that small business owners might need,” says blog editor Andrea Silvers. The method is often to focus on the experience of customers; “The blog allows us to tell the Xero story through thousands of different businesses, each with their own experiences, successes and struggles, as well as driving prospective users towards a hub where they can easily learn about the core product offer,” she adds.

But there are other things to consider. Lerner says blogs can be used to educate the audience, provide insights into the marketplace and also put the personality of your business centre stage. She recommends a multi-track approach.

In practice that might mean one blog focusing on a team member (company personality), the next explaining a concept (education) and a third talking about developments in the market (insight).

Unique value

Tom Berry, CEO of marketing consultancy says his company’s blogs fall into two categories:

“We split our blog content into two parts. The first are general blogs on current topics that interest our people (everything from Pokemon to music to commentary on breaking news). The second part we call “insights” – which are more analytical, longer pieces that allow our people to explore a topic in depth and offer practical advice on how brands can learn from latest thinking.”

If your aim is to educate or inspire the reader, it’s important to avoid plain vanilla content. The web is full of information, if your blog is to gain an audience it should offer something different.

“Before anything makes it onto the blog we ask ourselves “will this help someone?” says Silvers. “We aim to avoid giving generic tips and tricks that you can find all over the internet. We want to offer unique insight and value.”

Developing ideas

A company blog might go out once or twice a week, creating an annual requirement for 50 or 100 separate pieces of content. This is undoubtedly a challenge, but not one that’s insurmountable.

Lerner recommends getting members of staff together to brainstorm ideas and Berry agrees that many hands make light (or lighter) work. “Everyone across the business knows that they have a responsibility to contribute. This is a company blog, so it shouldn’t be solely showcasing the thoughts of a few directors.”

Once the ideas have been put together the next step is to work out a schedule. Lerner says some blog subjects will be time sensitive. For instance, if your business is attending a trade show in October, you will probably want to blog on that subject – while others are evergreen and can be posted at any time.

Measuring success

Blogging is not a direct response medium. You cannot simply post a few items on new products and expect sales to spike immediately. However, over time you should be able to measure the return on your efforts. “Increased web traffic can often be linked to a strong blog” says Berry.

“Another key measure of success is when our clients bring up topics we have posted on and get involved in the discussion. We want to make our clients think and if we are provoking debate around certain topics then we know we are going along the right lines. People are actually reading the blog.”

Lerner recommends including some sort of call to action on every blog, to increase engagement.

Tools of the trade

It is possible to produce a blog using the content management tools that are normally used to add copy to your website, but it is arguably better to use a dedicated blogging platform, examples include WordPress, Blogger, Contentful or Jekyll. Look for one that can be fully integrated to match the look and feel of your website, while enabling you to easily create and optimise content.

WordPress archives previous blogs and its functionality enables you to create subject matter tags (to attract search engine traffic) and activate reader comments.

Getting out there

A blog doesn’t sit in isolation. Most businesses are using social media to promote themselves and once a blog has been written it can be shared on Twitter or Facebook to increase its reach. This also increases the chance that followers will share it in their own circles.

Ultimately, if you produce quality blogs and get them out to an audience, the reward will be greater engagement, higher traffic and a revenue book to justify the effort.

This article is a part of the ‘Getting Online’ series sponsored by Verisign. For more information from Verisign on how to get your business online, click here.