Research shows that 15 blogs a month can generate 1,200 new leads, gather twice as many inbound links, and use content to bolster social media engagement.
But, if it was easy, everyone would do it. The key for non-writers in charge of business blogging is to begin with successful templates, and then add the main ingredients. For instance, here is what a worthwhile business blog would include:
- An eye-catching headline
- Multimedia within the post
- Linked outside sources
- A structured narrative that answers the premise
- Concise, scannable language
- Quality, authoritative content
Smaller businesses may enlist a marketer or “that guy who knows writing” to publish blogs because that’s what everyone else does. While having content out there that promotes a business is better than nothing, blogs often are the first point of contact with new customers. Don’t let them encounter a rushed 300-word post with terrible formatting that doesn’t have a takeaway at the end.
Find a Topic
Knowing what to write about is just as important as how you write it. Posting to a business blog every day is possible but not worth the effort if no one reads it. Luckily, hunting down topics isn’t too difficult:
- Stay up to date on what competitors are blogging about. Write a response or approach the subject from your own perspective.
- Search through comments your readers leave on social media and blogs. These “clues” can lead to increased interaction with followers and help you leverage the content that works.
- Research trending subjects on Google and news outlets. Is there some industry trend or social event in progress that can be recycled as a topic?
Not every topic needs to cover a major controversy or explore groundbreaking research. Business bloggers should take the “one for me, one for them” approach. This means that some topics can be focused on you, your business, and new things you’re doing and how they apply to readers.
For other topics, avoid begin promotional; even distance yourself from the content This type of blog is by far the most commonly read because the blogs are “generic,” so to speak, in that the topics can be appreciated by non-clients.
Another strategy is to practice topic targeting, or writing for a specific audience or demographic. Take Facebook. Business pages allow admins to see who “likes” their content and where they are from. So, if you are you a real estate company with a number of 25- to 30-year-olds followers in Chicago, consider blogs to fill this niche, like “What First Time Homeowners in Chicago Should Look For in a New Home.” These are called Facebook Insights.
Your sales department will know where your main business comes from and, more importantly, the demographic your business needs to engage.
Build Better Headlines
Headlines, or “linkbait,” can be used to attract clicks and readers. Tractionable headlines need to spark interest, especially considering that Facebook followers will (at most) glimpse at a post before scrolling further down their newsfeeds. The difference between a click and an ignore is the headline.
Consider the following headlines:
- Why do small businesses need blogs?
- 10 Reasons Startups Need Blogs
The content within these blogs may be very similar, but the fact that the second headline explains exactly what readers will encounter is why it wins every time. Take SEW’s “Top 10 Tips on Writing Top 10 Lists” as an example.
Think about The Huffington Post and how those articles are formed around headlines. They let potential readers think, “Okay. This is what I’m going to read about in this article.” I’m not saying your business blog should use newspaper-style headers, but concise language and a sense of urgency make better headlines and topics.
Use action words, mystery, or humor, or consider writing negative headlines (like “Why You Fail at Content Marketing”). Scroll through any major blog site, and what do you see? How-to guides, Top 10s, and “Why You Should XYZ.” These numerical, guide-style headlines are useful templates. The headline of a blog of mine, “How To Write 9 Headlines That Make You Sticky,” is built on these strategies.
Blogs, like this one, intend to inform readers. They fill various niches, like content marketing and social media, and readers have at least an inkling of where each headline will take them.
With a topic and headline in place, it’s time to write your blog. But blogs, unlike fifth grade English papers, don’t need to follow the introduction, three supporting paragraphs, and conclusion format. They also are different from journalistic news articles, or at least they should be.
Readers need to be able to answer the question, “Why did I click this link?” within seconds of loading a page. Start with an introductory hook, but don’t stress over trying to be clever or funny. You are a business, after all, and want readers (i.e., potential conversions) to take you seriously. For a how-to, there’s no harm done by opening strong with a synopsis and answering the “why” riddle.
To get readers to scroll down an entire page, add in transitions and teasers, and format content with narrative flow. There needs to be a beginning, middle, and end, mingled with surprises and commentary. As a capstone, business blogs need to have a call-to-action or conversion tool that fulfills the purpose of the blog: getting readers to your website.
The most effective way to structure content is to play off of the headline. Let’s try “4 Tips to Boost a Blogger’s Readership” as an example:
- Open with an anecdote or example that convinces readers to read on.
- Explain the purpose of the blog (its intent) in the second paragraph (or section).
- Make a bold, obvious break for Tip 1, develop the point, and repeat for Tips 2, 3, and 4.
- Add a final break (subhead) and finish with a synopsis, sources, and closing thoughts.
Look at that. There are 4 steps to write 4 tips.
Concerning length, blogs are only as good as you use them. Can you develop your topic, comment, and offer a takeaway in 400 words? Great. If not, write until it’s finished without boring readers or yourself.
Develop Style and Voice Branding
The biggest blog-killer is over-promotion, or when a business puts too much of itself into the content. If people want to read a robotic, PR-heavy business voice, they’ll check out a press release or read an “About” page.
Don’t waste your time writing a perfect business blog, and, in the closing paragraphs, initiate market-speak. This is tacky and obvious, not to mention a reason for readers to discard everything they learned because this post is “just another way for this business to advertise.” Never use a big “Like our blog, shop here!” image or use posts as a promotional soapbox.
Business blogging is tricky. It has intent, of course, which means people expect you to insert some of yourself (i.e., brand) into a blog. However, the fact is that people rarely visit these blogs to hear about your deals and discounts. They read them to learn. At most, use a supporting link from another blog you published or add a URL to the byline.
A company called Citrix has a blog, Work Shifting. At first glance, you probably can’t even tell there’s a brand behind it. The blog does this by zeroing in on audience expectations, or writing entertaining, relevant blogs without over-promoting the parent company. In fact, almost every one of its blogs are about “work shifting,” a promotional tool Citrix uses to pull in business. It writes for a niche without making it obvious.
Blogs broke away from PR-heavy stigma long ago, but business bloggers, experienced or not, still struggle with voice branding.
You’re representing your business when you blog for it. Are you using slang terms, extreme legal jargon, obscenities, or crude humor? These style traits may work for certain audiences (i.e., a relaxed legal blog about using the f-bomb and dirty jokes to sway juries) as long as you use them minimally and the language isn’t overbearing.
Create a Personality
While a business blog should have some promotion, or at least a link or mention of services, one thing it definitely should have is personality. Unfortunately, a non-writer likely will focus more on typing out a blog one word at a time and miss the big picture. Blogs should be fun and informative. Writers should sponsor the business rather than being sponsored by the business.
Check out Nuts About Southwest. Yes, the blog is by a major airline, but it’s not about tray tables and cheap flights. Instead, it’s about air travel and covers entertaining topics about cities and adventuring.
When I say a blog should have personality, I mean this:
- Relax. Write to the reader, use “you,” and communicate in the first person.
- Don’t be afraid to pull in odd examples to entertain your readers.
- Allude to present events, industry, and modern culture when applicable.
- Multimedia holds personality, though I advise serious business bloggers to stay away from cat memes and Rickrolling links (no matter how tempting).
Businesses need to create a persona for their “author.” People don’t want to read “10 Ways to Reduce Life Insurance Premiums” from the big bad insurance brand. They want to read it from a person. Often, in smaller businesses, a CEO or leader will come up with a concept, write a draft, and let a writer-marketer polish and post the blog. Using an executive persona is useful for marketing and presence purposes, especially considering they are the representative of a company, not the lowly writer.
Consistency is another factor to consider. With a persona (usually a Google Authorship or WordPress account), are you writing three blogs a week on heavy finances but then switching gears to politics and YouTube roundups? The advantage of a persona is that, if readers come to enjoy a writer’s style, it will be easier to find more content published by the same writer in the same vein.
Many businesses let a dedicated marketer (even a non-writer) use his or her persona for online marketing. This usually leads to higher quality writing and personal investment. These brand personas are capable of pulling in quotes from leaders, too, so don’t worry about being left out of the loop or voiceless.
Write for Readers who Scan
In terms of structure and style, today’s blogging culture often calls for short, choppy statements and lists. This is a gift for non-writers responsible for handling business blogs. Which of these two topics would be easier to write and be more informative and more attractive to readers?
- Why College Students in the Midwest Shouldn’t Handle Personal Finances
- 10 Reasons Why College Students Are Bad With Money
In the section on headlines, above, I discussed how active headlines shaped around lists and how-to guides are more attractive to readers. Using bullet points and organizing content in such a way that allows readers to skim through and pick up the highlights also is a must for non-writers.
Multimedia is another way to break up big blocks of text and give readers some relief. Find or create images with statistics, and use infographics, pictures, pull-quotes, videos, and other forms of multimedia.
One of the most common faults of sub-par business bloggers is a lack of clarity, or the tendency to over-complicate simple ideas (Tip 1, Tip 2, etc.) to hit a word count. This is tied to blogger confidence and ultimate authority.
Jeff Bullas publishes a lot of blogs shaped around tips and tricks, topics that are easy to scan and comprehend. Here’s an example of a blog on headline writing:
And, here’s a blog on [non]billable hour, a law blog that uses simplicity to deliver advice:
And now the crux of the post — authority. Business bloggers are challenged to write as experts on a subject, even if they know nothing about bank loans in Idaho or how to manage credit debt. Thus, a paradox between writing quality and authority:
- The “expert” may be your CEO or sales specialist. But, for whatever reason, the blog lands on your shoulders, and you have to fulfill the assignment and deliver an expert opinion (an even bigger challenge when the expert isn’t involved in the process).
- You may very well be the authority on a subject but have no experience blogging or writing to an online audience. What do you do to revise and write prolific posts?
For the second group, which this blog is geared toward, the best piece of advice is one you may have figured out already: professional blogging requires a formulaic approach. Almost anyone can compile lists of tips or write out an industry trend and turn it into a worthwhile blog. While the formula is easy to decipher, the difference between your post and thousands of others is creativity.
Even if you’re an expert on mutual funds or process visualization, that doesn’t mean you have the communicative power to “dumb it down” for the average reader. Even with all of the statistics, anecdotes, facts, and figures, authoritative blogs are only taking up space if they can’t be understood.
So, how do business bloggers counter the complexity and over-authoritative tone to write legible content? Easy: let someone else read it and give you a summary. If they can’t, the blog is too difficult.
Focus on Quality
Quality or quantity? Bloggers have mixed feelings about this, especially considering the opening paragraph about how frequent blogging can double website visits. (Consider this example of what happens when a business posts 150 blogs in 50 days.)
While having lots of blogs keeps social media activity up and increases the likelihood of finding new readers, businesses need to be proud of what they publish. Besides, a blog’s searchability and newsfeed presence is largely linked to its ability to generate likes and shares. Poor content doesn’t stand a chance.
Building quality content means you have to edit, revise, and pump high-quality sources into your blog to make it as authoritative as possible. Blogs should also “look good” in terms of format, spacing, and how multimedia is organized.
Just look at the sleek, white-space-heavy design on Delicious Days, a non-professional blog that discusses (with authority) cooking.
In case you are new to blogging or let someone else manage posting, no two blog platforms are alike, and all of them are complicated. WordPress, for instance, can defeat even the most tech-savvy of us. And, what you write in a neatly formatted Word document hardly ever transfers to a post engine.
It’s like having a really nice suit and being terrible at your job. How your blog looks needs to reflect the quality of the content and vice versa.
For struggling business bloggers, it’s best to scale back quantity in order and just create fewer showcase blogs. Use a mix of content to give your readers (and writers) a break. Consider some of these alt-style blogs:
- A roundup of a business’s top social media posts (top Tweets of the week, etc.).
- A summary of a linked news article that has to do with a business.
- Infographics or images that readers may find interesting or entertaining.
- A quick “week in recap” post about what a business has been doing in the past week.
- New product line? Write a post that cites a press release.
These types of blogs break up the workload and allow non-writers to focus more energy on creating a big hitter once a week.
Follow up after Posting
Finally. The blog is done. What now? Well, the post-and-done model is rarely worth the effort. These dead-on-arrival blogs aren’t updated, analyzed, and shared, nor are they read.
Businesses should keep a running list of topics they’ve done in the past and use them as resources for future content, repurposing, and collecting feedback on quality. Proficient business bloggers, for instance, often will write a big, comprehensive article that cites previous blogs.
Jane Freidman, a notable e-book author and member of the publishing community, pulled together blogs she wrote and listed them as resources. This strategy, sometimes called a content series, is great for cataloging content that readers can reference.
Big blogs need to be curated (bookmarked and obvious) on a business’s homepage, too, which can be used to showcase new content. This practice helps to keep the blogs alive on social media. Repost them if they don’t get the readership they deserve.
There it is: the elemental foundations of a worthwhile, tractionable business blog. The one thing I can’t teach you is how to find the motivation to keep blogging after a streak of duds (a tragedy most business bloggers experience), except to say that it gets easier the more you do it.
About the Author: Brennan Girdler is an associate writer and editor for Grammar Chic, Inc. The Charlotte, North Carolina, company recently launched Chic Marketing, a wing dedicated to content marketing, @ChicMarketingGC.