Starting a blog for your small business? You’re not alone. Creating a successful blog is incredibly challenge and very few people get it right—and more often, people give it up.
Why is it so difficult? To be frank, I don’t think it actually is. I think the problem people run into is that they don’t document their blog strategy. Until you write down a plan, you don’t have one. You’re building the plane as you fly it. And that’s a recipe for disaster.
And I know this lack of documentation is a problem because year after year, the data shows few businesses do it.
According to the Content Institute’s 2021 annual report, only 43% of marketers have a documented strategy. That’s a whole lot of people wandering around aimlessly.
What’s more, I’ve been tracking this stat since 2016, when the number was 37%. In five years, we’ve only seen a 16% increase in documented blog strategies. Why do we keep getting this wrong?
But never mind that. You’re here. You are the chosen one. You actually want to document your strategy. Specifically your blog strategy. It’s no easy task, and it’s not something you can do in “5 minutes.”
Over the last 10 years of my marketing career, I’ve developed dozens of blog strategies for clients. I’ve seen the good, the bad, and the ugly, and I want to share my learnings with you.
I’ve documented the questions I asked and the tactics I used to help shape my client’s blog strategy, and I want to share them with you. By addressing the questions and potential answers I outline below, you’ll find yourself on a faster track than our friends in the 43%.
So let’s get started.
4 Steps to Starting a Blog for Small Businesses
- Identify a clear audience whose needs and pain points you can empathize with.
- Set measurable, achievable, and timely goals.
- Define a niche topic your business can write on and own.
- Plan how you will attract new readers and keep them coming back.
1. Identify a Clear Audience Whose Needs and Pain Points You Can Empathize With.
Know your audience. Advice so simple and clear, it’s become a cliche, and yet it’s worth repeating again and again.
When you take the time to document your target audience, we call these personas. The benefits of buyer persona can be endless. Good personas help organizations understand the motivations, goals, and barriers buyers face as they travel along the path to purchase.
But if “knowing your audience” is so obvious it’s basically trite, then why, according to a 2016 survey by persona expert Tony Zambito, do 70% of B2B marketers find buyer personas confusing?
Before you begin starting a blog, you absolutely must start by answering the fundamental question: Who is my audience? And that requires persona development.
A good persona should include, at a minimum, the following:
- The buying role: Do they have the final say when purchasing or are they merely fact-finding for their boss?
- Goals: What would a purchase of your product or service ultimately help them achieve?
- Buying triggers or drivers: What is it that’s happened in their life that’s leading them to consider this purchase?
- Barriers to purchase: What might prevent them from purchasing from you?
- Preferred communication channels: Where do they learn about products (e.g., television, Facebook, email, Instagram, etc.)?
- Success factors: How do they measure satisfaction from the purchase?
- Role of content: What must your content do to draw them closer to your business?
Once you know your audiences, you can begin to build content that is made for them.
Write to Your Audience, Not at Them
A blog is a form of communication. Instead of one-to-one, a blog is one-to-many. However, that doesn’t mean you should write like that.
Reading is always an intimate experience—even on topics like regulation changes in the financial sector. As such, your writing must be intimate. You’re not writing for the masses. You’re writing for that single reader, who happens to catch a breath between meetings, pulls out her phone, and sees your latest post in LinkedIn’s news feed.
Consider that image a second longer: A woman stands outside a conference room, her phone clutched tightly a few inches from her face. You’re writing to her. You’re communicating insights, ideas, and practical value directly to her. And you’re doing this successfully because you took the time to get to know her.
Invite Your Audience Into the Blog
Once you establish this intimate communication channel between your brand and your audience, the next logical step is to invite your readers to speak back. Create the mechanisms and processes for inviting your readers into the blog.
Enable comments. I know it can be scary to allow people to post their opinions. What if they say something terrible? Most commenting tools come with approval options, but, regardless, you’re much better off opening the door than shutting it.
Respond to comments. I can’t tell you how frustrating it is to see comments on a corporate blog go unanswered or unacknowledged. Someone took the time to write a message. The very least we can do is thank them for their time.
Encourage guest bloggers. As you build a blog readership, you may find some readers have thoughts or ideas they’d love to share outside of the comments. Encourage them. Invite them to guest blog. Better yet, invite them to co-author a post with you. Not only does this grow your brand equity, you also expose your editorial content to perspectives you might never have uncovered.
2. Set Measurable, Achievable, and Timely Goals.
So let’s say you build this blog, and you start writing and publishing posts regularly. What then? What does success look like for your brand? We all know blogs are important. Everyone says so. Heck, even I (ghost)wrote a post years ago on the subject.
But starting a blog for the sake of having one won’t cut it. What do you want the blog to achieve? How will you measure success? These questions must be answered (for the most part) up front, as they will dictate practically everything about your blog.
From the user experience (UX) and wireframes to the design and even whether to include comments or not—knowing your goals ahead of time matters.
So, I ask again, what does success look like for your blog strategy?
Maybe for your blog strategy, success is brand awareness. A blog is an owned property for you to drive that stake in the ground and publicize who you are and why you matter. You may have a powerhouse of experts chomping at the bit to showcase their thought leadership to the world.
In that case, your KPIs (key performance indicators) may include:
- Site traffic (new visitors, specifically)
- Email subscribers, open rates, click-through rates, etc.
- Social media followers
- Comments and other forms of engagement on the blog
- Mentions and inbound links from external publications
With that goal and these KPIs in mind, you’ll head into the content strategy and UX process with clear objectives. These KPIs will influence what the navigation looks like, how your blog’s subscription process works, how you display social shares, and so forth.
But maybe you’re starting a blog to do more than build brand awareness.
Your blog is now your inbound marketing machine. Similar to brand awareness, your goal is to cast a wide net, but to generate quality leads, you’ll want to place limitations on how far you cast. This means writing on niche topics you know your audience is looking for (because you have your persona research to validate that).
For lead generation, the KPIs are bit more straightforward:
- New leads (duh, right?)
- Lead quality
- Cost per lead
- New site visitors
- SEO rankings
A lead generation site looks a little different from a brand awareness site. You’ll want more promotional calls to action to drive people to a conversion form. Maybe you offer high-value content in the form of e-books, webinars, tools, etc. For its part, your blog content now becomes a hook for drawing in new visitors to your lead capture landing pages, and you’ll want to vary your content mix to catch as many potential leads as possible.
For some businesses, the sales cycle takes a little time. It’s not like buying a set of light bulbs. Maybe your business requires a bit more exposure and education. More research is involved, more influencers and stakeholders are entering the fray, and buyers are depending more on industry experts and leaders to help make decisions. With this in mind, your blog can play a huge role in nurturing prospects down the buyer’s journey.
For lead nurturing, your KPIs may include:
- Lead quality score
- Lead-to-opportunity conversion rates
- Returning site visitors
- Social media followers
- Cost of acquiring a customer (CAC)
With the blog playing an instrumental role in your lead nurturing strategy, your content should align closely to the buyer’s journey—for all personas. You may look to segment your blog by persona or by product/solution. Better still, you may want to integrate personalization tools to truly connect with prospects, especially as you build and refine their profile data.
As prospects move further down the journey, they’re looking for a business whose leaders have experience and knowledge. They’ll expect that expertise to exude from every blog post you write.
Customer Loyalty & Advocacy
Customer service is crucial for businesses that wish to stay relevant and stay in business. High customer satisfaction leads to stronger sentiment and retention. But it’s not just about retention. Nearly 20% of new business comes from current customers. Here’s to the advocates!
Customer loyalty and advocacy are important elements for any organization, but they’re not synonymous. To have one is not to have another. Loyalty is how you stay in business, but advocacy is how you grow a business.
Loyalty is how you stay in business, but advocacy is how you grow a business.
For customer loyalty and advocacy, your KPIs may include:
- Net promoter score (NPS)
- Email subscription metrics (click-through rate, open rate, etc.)
- Social sharing and mentions
- Customer referrals
- Customer repeat (how is your blog upselling/cross-selling?)
- Churn rate
If you believe in customer loyalty and advocacy for your brand, I recommend starting a blog that’s separate and secluded for customers only. You can publish content around onboarding, frequently asked questions, updates and announcements, etc. Even customer spotlights that chronicle how certain customers tackled unique challenges using your products and solutions do well here. A customer-only blog gives you an opportunity to communicate directly and personally to your customers, letting them know that you value their business and support.
3. Define a Niche Topic Your Business Can Own.
I’ve purposefully set this question to follow audience and goals because you can’t possibly know what you’ll write about until you know who you’re writing for and why you’re writing in the first place.
But that still begs the question: What do I write that gets people’s attention?
This is a tough question, and even the best marketers struggle to find an answer. According to the Content Institute, 63% of marketers believe creating engaging content is their number one barrier to success.
While I don’t intend to solve the problem in this post, I do have a few ideas for helping you get closer to finding the solution for yourself as you build your blog strategy.
Provide Practical Value
People love reading and learning about things that add practical value to their life or others’. According to NYT Insight Group, 94% of users assess the usefulness of content before deciding to share content with someone else.
What’s more, practical value reflects positively on your brand. Readers will see you as a brand that actually knows what it’s talking about. Whether you have tips for being more efficient at work or saving money using “these 7 tricks,” offering your readers practical value that directly aligns with your brand promise and mission will keep them coming back.
Make Them Feel It
This will likely sound cliche, but I’ll write it anyway: People don’t buy from businesses; people buy from people. At the heart of that transaction lies the emotional bond between people. Whether that bond is positive (trust, respect, loyalty) or negative (fear, disgust, animosity), it’s plain to see emotions underscore our relationships with brands.
Rather than harping on features or facts, we need to focus on feelings; the underlying emotions that motivate people to action. – Dr. Jonah Berger
In Dr. Jonah Berger’s bestseller Contagious: Why Things Catch On, he studied 7,000 New York Times articles, ranking their emotional value against their propensity to be read and shared.
According to his research, “high arousal” articles consistently made NYT’s top-shared content list. High-arousal emotions include:
- Amusement (humor)
Notice the last two: anger and anxiety. Even negative emotions engross readers, as long as those emotions arouse a need to take action.
Be a Storyteller
We all know the story of the Tortoise and the Hare. The Tortoise, ever patient and persistent, never gives up, despite the cocky Hare’s provocation that the Tortoise will never match the speed of the Hare. And yet…well, you know how it ends.
But more importantly, you know the moral of the story: “Slow and steady wins the race.”
Let me ask you this: Would you know that moral as well had you never heard the story of the Tortoise and the Hare? Very unlikely. In fact, I imagine you’ve heard simple morals like “slow and steady” all your life, but without the association of a strong story, most of those morals haven’t stuck.
That’s why storytelling is so important. Everyone loves a good story. We love the rise and fall of action; we love strong and sympathetic characters going after something they want and (maybe) getting it in the end. It stands to reason, then, that we would love stories even from businesses.
4. Plan How You Will Attract New Readers and Keep Them Coming Back.
Oh right. Readers. Can’t forget about them. One of the worst feelings in the world is to go through all the work of starting a blog, and then when you head over to your Google Analytics dashboard, you hear crickets. A proper distribution plan is critical to your blog strategy’s success.
Search Engine Optimization
One of the biggest benefits of a blog is the boost to your search engine optimization (SEO). You’ll write and publish many content pieces, all of which can and should be optimized for keywords your audience is using during their buying research.
The best advice I can give you is this: Write on a keyword to death. What I mean by that is you should find a keyword that you love (high monthly search volume, low competition), and write as many blog articles as you can on the keyword. Your first, second, or third blog might not rank #1, but the more you vary up that keyword and find new ways to provide value on that keyword, the more chances you’re giving yourself to rise to the top.
Social media is the default mode for most marketers when it comes to deciding on how to promote a blog. However, you must do more than simply tweet the article once, twice, or even three times. While continuously promoting your content is smart (in my opinion, if a post is evergreen, you should never stop promoting it), you should also consider how you promote it:
- Vary up the title of your post (try a dozen to start with)
- Use popular hashtags and find relevant niche ones
- Try different content types (infographics, animated GIFs, quotes, etc.)
- Tag relevant people
- Post in social media groups/threads
For email distribution, make sure you’ve set up a consistent email newsletter. Allow subscribers to customize their preferences (daily, weekly, monthly, etc.) as well as customize their content preferences (categories, authors, types, etc.).
Find niche networks to cross-promote your content. This part takes research and time, but the results are incredible. One thing I like to do is ask my clients’ current customers (usually during the persona research) what they read and where. I log that information and hold onto it for future use. If current customers read certain magazines or blogs, I can safely assume potential prospects are also reading there.
Start making connections with writers on those networks. Comment on relevant blog articles, reach out on social media, etc. You may find an opportunity to cross-promote through guest blogging on their network or on yours.
Especially at the early stages of your blog, paid promotions may very well be your best bet for gaining a readership. I’ve had great success with LinkedIn’s Sponsored Content for several of my clients, but I’d also recommend finding key blogs or magazines and working with their advertising department on creating sponsored stories or native advertising.
When your blog first launches, you should try to test a little bit of everything. Those small wins will lead to big success down the road.
Ready to Start a Blog? Join the 43%
In this post, we’ve talked about the importance of knowing your audience, developing a clear goal and KPIs, creating engaging content,, and attracting readers. Obviously, much more can be said on all of these topics plus a number of others we didn’t even get to.
Regardless, you are one step closer to starting a blog, but you must document your ideas, your process, and your strategy. Join the 43% of businesses doing it right. There’s no reason you can’t have a successful blog.
If you have any questions or comments, leave a message below.
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