These days it seems like every business is blogging; your electrician, your IT provider, your mum’s hairdresser. Doesn’t the internet have enough blogs? Why should you follow the crowd?
There’s one simple answer. Because business blogging actually works. It’s not a passing marketing trend; like email spamming or buying reviews.
A quality business blog offers huge marketing potential, and it’s vastly more cost effective than paid SEO services. This applies to virtually any industry - architecture, engineering, IT, construction, design, retail - you name it. A business blog can work for you.
In this Absolute Beginner’s Guide I’m going to tell you why business blogging should be part of your marketing strategy, and the key steps to getting started. It’s not as difficult as you think.
Why Does It Work?
Publishing a regular blog has a number of potential benefits for your business:
- Regular blogging means your site always has fresh content. This is noted by Google’s spiders (automated search bots that find and index sites) helping you to get more traffic and more links.
- Each individual blog post has the potential to bring in traffic. This is more likely if your titles are enticing and have long-tail keywords people are searching for.
- Blogging promotes links to and from your website. This boosts your SEO rankings. The more high authority websites link to your blog posts, the better.
- A blog newsletter is an excellent source of lead generation. Collect valuable contact details, while building a loyal following of readers.
- Business blogging helps to position you as an industry expert. Maybe even a thought leader. Great blogs can build huge followings.
- Blogging gives value to your audience. If you provide them with answers to their problems, they’re more likely to become loyal, paying customers.
- You can easily attract more visitors to your blog through social media. And posting great blog posts can attract new followers to your social page.
- You can easily place CTAs (Call to Actions) on your blog. These can link to your online shop, a landing page, a free product trial - whatever part of your website you want.
Convinced yet? I thought you might be. Now it’s time to create your business blog...
Step 1 - Choose a Platform
This first stage will depend on whether you have an existing business website. If you don’t have a business website and are building a blog from scratch, you have the option of choosing either hosted or self-hosted (explained below).
If you do have an existing business website, this is where you should install your blog. It will help you to reap the SEO benefits on your official website. In this case you will need to choose a self-hosted blogging platform (I recommend WordPress as it’s widely compatible).
So what exactly is a hosted vs self-hosted blogging platform?
Hosted (Third Party) Blogging Platform
Hosted blog platforms manage the blog software, data and hosting, so you don’t have to. Your content lives on their web servers. All you need to do is sign-up and start blogging. There is no coding or difficult technical setup required.
Hosted platforms are popular because they offer an easy entrance to the world of blogging. However, there are several downsides to having your blog hosted by a third party site. You will not have full ownership of your content, and your design and customisation options will be limited. Another problem is you do not gain SEO benefits for your own business site.
Examples: WordPress.com, Medium, Tumblr, Quora, Blogger, SquareSpace, Svbtle
Self-Hosted Blogging Platform
While more complex to set up, this is usually a better option for aspiring business bloggers. You will pay for the registration of your own domain name, and rent server space through a hosting company. Once your site is created you install the blogging software yourself (or install it on your existing business website if you have one).
While setting up a self-hosted blog is more technical, there are several online guides to help you, especially for WordPress users. You will reap the benefits of SEO on your own website and have ownership of everything. You’ll also be able to customise design and layout to your heart’s content. The downside is that you’ll have more responsibility (and less support) if something goes wrong.
Examples: WordPress.org, Ghost, Moveable Type, ExpressionEngine, Drupal, Weebly
While I encourage you to explore these options yourself, I generally recommend WordPress.org for business blogs. WordPress.org offers widely supported software (and is compatible with most existing websites). While there is a slight learning curve to setting up, there’s a plethora of online tutorials and guides to help you out.
Bonus Tip: It’s not either or! While I recommend self-hosting your official business blog, you can still leverage your content using other channels. It doesn’t hurt to establish an additional blog presence on a platform like Medium and harness its social sharing/community benefits (while linking back to your official site). Of course, this depends on the time and energy you are willing to invest.
Step 2 - Purchase Web Hosting & Domain Name
This step only applies if you’ve chosen a self-hosted blogging platform, and you don’t have an existing business website. You’ll need to create a site to host your new blog.
This involves two main steps:
- Choose and register a domain name for your business blog:
The domain name is the URL that takes people to your website (example - www.workflowmax.com). A quick search on GoDaddy will tell you if your business name is available. If it’s already taken you’ll need to get more creative. Try to make it memorable, but keep it easy to spell and pronounce. Avoid hyphens and choose the .com extension if possible (this is still the most preferred).
Here’s a guide to choosing the perfect domain name. Once you’ve found one, you’ll have to pay to register it.
- Choose a web hosting provider:
Now you need a server to host your site. Most web hosting providers charge a set monthly fee; which includes a certain amount of storage and backup space. Some offer 24/7 online support for any technical issues. Sometimes the cost of domain name registration is included. The package you choose will depend on your requirements.
Some of the most popular web hosting providers are: BlueHost, GoDaddy, HostGator and DreamHost. All of these are compatible with WordPress.org blog software and offer reasonably straightforward blog installation.
Once you’ve chosen a domain name and web host, you’ll need to install WordPress, Ghost, or whichever blogging software you chose in Step 1. This goes beyond the scope of this blog; but there are plenty of tutorials online.
Step 3 - Design Your Look
Now the fun part! You get to decide what your blog will look like. Will it be sleek and minimalistic? Bright and playful? Dark and brooding?
There are several things to think about when choosing your blog appearance. Obviously if your business has branding rules you’ll want to follow them. Use the correct fonts and colours so your audience recognises you. Otherwise it’s time to get creative!
How you customise the appearance of your blog will depend on your chosen platform, but almost all of them offer design templates. Design templates (or themes) are an instant way of changing the look of your blog. WordPress.org offers a wide range of free themes, or if budget allows you can pay for commercial ones (these designs are more unique, and often come with support and instructional PDFs).
Step 4 - Plan Your Content Strategy
Emanuel Lasker was ranked as the world’s best chess player for 27 years. When asked about his strategy he famously said: “When you see a good move...look for a better one”.
This should be your mindset when planning content. The internet is saturated with bloggers in every industry, so you won’t succeed just by existing. Research your competitors, then figure out how to make your blog better than theirs.
Here are a few questions to ask yourself:
- What are the goals for my blog? You might want to generate leads and gain newsletter subscribers, or you might be trying to position yourself as a thought leader. These goals will determine your content and approach.
- What will set your blog apart from the competition? If you’re writing about common industry topics, try to offer a unique angle or fresh perspective.
- How often do I have the capacity to blog? At least 3 times a week is preferable. If you don’t have time, consider assigning team members or hiring freelance writers.
- What is the voice of my business? Do you want to come across as professional and authoritative? Light and conversational? Humorous and edgy?
- How can I use visual content to my advantage? Does your business have a professional photographer or videographer who can create original content for your blog? Great visuals can improve your blog’s appearance and ranking.
- What keywords am I trying to rank for? This is a huge topic beyond the scope of this article. But as a general rule, try to rank for long-tail keywords relevant to your industry rather than short generic ones. Moz has an excellent guide to keyword research.
- Are there events or special dates I want to promote? It can be helpful creating a calendar of upcoming events and holidays relevant to your business.
Check out Smartblogger’s more in-depth guide to planning your blog content strategy.
Step 5 - Publish Regularly
A recent study by Hubspot found that companies publishing at least 16 posts per month received 3.5x more traffic than those only publishing 0-4 times per month. So don’t think you can get away with one post a week! Aim to publish 3-4 times a week minimum.
Think those blog posts will take a couple of minutes? Think again. Gone are the days of reeling off a lazy 500 word rant. Long-form posts (2000+ words) are increasingly favoured by Google. Posting in-depth, highly researched and well written content is more likely to position you as an expert, offer value to your audience, and boost your SEO rankings. This should be your goal.
Of course, posting long-form content 3-4 times a week requires a significant commitment. What kind of manager or CEO has that much time on their hands? That’s why so many blogs (some estimate around 95%) are started then quickly abandoned. Don’t let yours join the blog graveyard.
Here are a few tips:
- Create a detailed content calendar. Plan the dates and topics of your posts in advance, and share with your team to hold yourself accountable. Delegate certain topics to team members making use of their knowledge and strengths.
- Consider outsourcing content creation. Websites like UpWork have millions of freelance writers ready to work for you. Be careful though - there’s plenty of dirt cheap content to be bought, and this won’t do your blog any favours. If you want quality writers with industry specific knowledge you need to hunt for them, and be willing to pay premium rates.
- Allow for flexibility. Keep your posting schedule open to change, in case a last-minute news event or topic relevant to your industry pops up. You need to keep your finger on the pulse to maintain credibility.
Step 6 - Distribute Your Content
You’ve published some killer content - now you need to give it that extra push. It takes a long time to build up your organic traffic, so it’s important to utilise your existing networks. Is your business on LinkedIn, Facebook or Twitter? These are ideal places to share your posts. Add social sharing buttons to your blog and your fans can share it too.
There’s almost no limit to the channels you can share your blog on. But if you’re not set up on social media yet, make sure you choose the right social media channel for your business.
Email marketing is another effective - albeit more complex - method of distributing your blog to a wider audience. This can vastly increase your traffic, but only if your content is really engaging and you’re posting it regularly.
Here at WorkflowMax we send out a blog newsletter every Thursday, with three informative and entertaining articles. We call it The Unconventional Guide to Work and we’ve had great feedback from our subscribers. If you haven’t joined yet you can sign up here.
- Include links to your blog in all your social media profiles
- Bribe your team members to share on their own social media
- You can share posts more than once! Resurface evergreen content
- Invest money in social media advertising to further your reach
Step 7 - Start Guest Blogging
Guest blogging is a great way of growing your online presence during these early stages (and beyond). In fact, some would argue it’s the single most important growth strategy for bloggers.
When you write a guest post for someone else’s website, they usually let you include a link back to your own blog (this is guest blogging etiquette!). This is known as a backlink. Backlinks are excellent for boosting your SEO ranking - they’re like Google Gold. The more backlinks you get from trusted, high authority websites the better.
Writing guest posts also helps you build relationships with other influential bloggers. They may share your posts on their own social media, introducing your name and business to a whole new audience. Of course, guest blogging can be a little daunting if you don’t know how to get started. Check out our 8 steps to creating a guest blogging game plan.
I hope you enjoyed this beginner’s guide to business blogging! Now that you know the basics, look out for next week’s post...I’ll be delving deeper into one of the most difficult questions - which blogging platform is best for you?
In the meantime, here’s some extra reading:
- 5 classic blogging mistakes small businesses make and how to avoid them
- Architects: Your competitors aren’t blogging, here’s why you should be
- Accountants: Boost your profile with these guidelines for guest blogging