10 February 2015
10 tips to help you start a successful business blog
Emily Hill is the CEO of Write My Site, a digital copywriting agency based in Ealing, London. Her next workshop, ‘Blogging for Business’ takes place at the British Library Business & IP Centre on Thursday 12 February at 6pm. We asked her what advice she would give to small businesses wanting to start or develop their blog.
Blogging for Business
Ahead of my workshop about business blogging as part of this year’s Web in Feb, I thought it would be useful to outline a few tips for small business owners who are considering starting a blog – or indeed, those who have set up blogs on their websites but aren’t too sure what to do with them.
At my copywriting agency, we write content for all manner of business blogs, from start-up tech companies through to big fashion retailers, and while there’s a vast difference in the type of content that performs best for each client, there are some general principles that apply to everyone. Below is my shortlist of 10 considerations which I hope will help in deciding how to approach blogging for
1) Blogging is proven to increase traffic to your website
Let’s start with the question at the top of every small business owner’s mind: does blogging actually bring more traffic to your website? The answer, happily, is yes. Adding between 21 and 51 blog posts to your site boosts traffic by up to 30%, and when you’ve added at least 52 blog posts, your traffic increases by 77%.
A study of 2,000 businesses by HubSpot also revealed that blogging more than 15 times each month increases traffic by 55% and inbound links by 97%.
2) Blogging generates leads
Blogging sceptics think it’s not worth spending time or money on lots of content that doesn’t generate immediate sales. These people are missing the point. For small businesses, a blog is the most valuable digital asset they can curate. Blogging does generate leads – according to a Think Creative survey, small businesses that blog get 126% more lead growth than small businesses that do not blog. However, it’s important to take a long-term approach.
At Write My Site, we regularly sign new clients who have been following our blog and social channels for months – in some cases years. Blogging is about building your reputation as an expert in your field, and you can’t do that overnight. The payoff, however, is that the clients who’ve been following your blog are the best kind of clients: they’ve already learned something from you, they already trust your brand, and they are brilliant at generating repeat orders and referrals.
3) Small businesses get the most out of blogging
Small businesses with 1-10 employees receive the biggest benefit of frequent blogging: they can double their sales leads by increasing their number of blog posts from 3-5 to 6-8 per month (HubSpot).
That said, measuring the impact of a business blog purely by the amount of traffic or leads it generates is a limited approach because it excludes the value of developing a social media fan base, and obtaining PR opportunities (e.g. invitations to speak at industry conferences) – both of which are invaluable by-products of blogging for small businesses who must constantly find ways to compete with more well-known competitors.
4) Writing the company blog needs to be someone’s main job
Here’s the drawback to blogging: it’s labour-intensive. This means someone has to spend their time researching and creating the sort of high-quality, original content that will stand out from the thousands of generic articles that already exist on any given topic. Most business blogs are abandoned after fewer than 5 posts and my guess would be it’s because nobody has the time to keep it up to date.
Writing the company blog needs to be someone’s main job or clearly-defined part-time role. It doesn’t matter if that someone is an employee, a contractor or an agency copywriter – what’s important is that they don’t have conflicting demands on their time.
5) Every business has something interesting to say
Many businesses fear they are too “boring” to be able to populate a blog with regular content that people will want to read, but there is a clear reason why this isn’t so: if your business has a customer base, then it is sitting on information and advice that will be of interest to those customers.
Take net curtains, for instance. This is not a topic that automatically gets my pulse racing, but I became a customer of a small textiles company that had taken the trouble to publish articles about how to measure, select and hang net curtains. Why did I buy from them? Quite simply, because they had taken the trouble to provide genuinely helpful information that was an exact match for my needs. This made me far more positively inclined towards them than towards the other companies that simply tried to sell me their products.
6) Longer articles are generally better than shorter ones
In recent years there’s been a shift from short and snappy blog pieces to longer, more detailed articles. This is partly because of Google’s increasingly strict quality guidelines (see point 8, below) and partly because responsive design has made it possible for long-form text to be easily read on mobile phones and tablets. Although there is no convincing evidence that the length of a blog piece has a noticeable impact on traffic, it does seem to affect links and social shares. If a blog post is greater than 1,500 words, on average it receives 68.1% more tweets and 22.6% more Facebook likes (Quick Sprout).
My view is that most blogs benefit from a mix of article lengths. I tend to write a combination of 1,000 words plus pieces (such as this one!) and shorter pieces of no more than 500 words as these can be more easily absorbed by the busy reader.
7) WordPress is awesome
I suggest to my clients that they get set up to an easy to use and SEO-friendly blogging platform such as WordPress. What I really like about WordPress (other than it being completely free) is the extent to which it can be customised – both on the front and back end. You can make it look and behave in just about any way you like.
8) Keywords have grown up
More precisely, Google has grown up. Blogging used to be so easy: all you needed to do was keep repeating a certain word or phrase as often as you could and wait for Google to put you on Page One of the search results for that term. Following a deluge of poorly constructed ‘spam’ articles from companies wanting a quick win, however, Google has raised its game and is becoming better at recognising keyword spam and other cheap tricks designed to manipulate its algorithm.
Following the Hummingbird update in 2013, Google’s key interest is figuring out what people mean rather than just what they say when they run a search. The semantics of search is a huge topic in and of itself, so for the purposes of this section I’ll skip straight to the conclusion: write articles targeted at the reader and don’t crowbar your keywords into them. If you’re using WordPress (see point 7!) you can install a plugin called Yoast which will help you tweak your articles for keywords in a natural way.
9) Your blog needs a voice
Generic content is the kiss of death in business blogging, especially for small companies that don’t already have an established readership. There is absolutely no reason for anyone to read your ‘me too’ version of an article that has already been widely circulated. You must develop a distinctive voice, and a distinctive view on whatever topic you are writing about.
10) Your analytics will tell you what’s working (and what’s not)
The only way you can tell whether or not your blog is doing well is by measuring it. As the saying goes “if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it”. Fortunately, this doesn’t need to cost you a penny. Make sure you install Google Analytics so that you can track visitors and page bounces (the number of people who leave your blog without interacting) for every article. Over time you should be able to spot patterns that tell you what kind of articles are most popular with your readers.
Blogging for your business can reap huge rewards, so I hope these tips have gone some way towards helping you develop and refine your strategy. Good luck!