A good blog is vital to the success of any modern website.
Not only does it aim to inform and entertain, a blog increases site visitors, improves trust and ensures that the site is regularly visited by search engines and traffic alike.
Blogging has become increasingly popular year in, year out, as many website owners have come to realise just how much of an impact a good blog can have.
Done well, a blog can make a huge difference to a business, and ensure that a steady supply of leads flow into the sales pipeline.
But it’s not all about the sales.
Having a blog does of course help with the funnel, but in general, it’s a very subtle sales tool. A blog works to increase trust and showcase a business’s expertise in order to demonstrate to visitors that the company knows their stuff. It helps to cement the idea that the business is expert in their industry and that the customer is better off buying from them than the competition.
For the small business owner, taking the plunge and creating a regular blog can be daunting. It needn’t be though. A blog – when planned and implemented well – can boost business, bringing more customers who ideally keep on coming back for more and remain loyal to your brand.
What Makes a Good Blog?
Businesses still make mistakes when it comes to blogging, although in the last couple of years it’s true that we’ve seen improvements. Now, we’re less likely to come across the 300-word ‘fluff’ posts that we used to see littering the whole web. It’s more common now to see longer form, actionable and interesting posts that provide real value to the reader.
For the small business owner though, it can still be difficult to know where to start or if you’re doing it right. And mistakes happen all of the time. One of the most common that businesses make when it comes to the blog is to be consistently self-promotional.
Nobody really wants to read a 500 word post about how great it is that your company gave £100 to charity (sure, give yourself a pat on the back, but don’t ask everyone else to).
And nobody is going to be especially interested about the industry award that a member of staff has been nominated for.
Your new line of products that you’re about to release are undoubtedly great, but do they really warrant a 1000 word post extolling their virtues?
A good blog looks to provide interesting and actionable information that solves a problem for the reader.
The question is of course, how do you know what is the above to your particular audience?
This depends on groundwork and knowing your customer. You should create buyer personas to get a grip on who your audience are, what they want and the problems that they have that your blog should look to solve.
A buyer persona should include:
- Age range – typically, how old are your customers? Do you cater towards mothers, for example, or teenagers, or business people within a certain range?
- Profession – what do your customers do? Are you selling B2B or directly to consumers? Why will they want to buy from you?
- Education – what level of education does your audience have and how will this affect how you address them?
- Hobbies – what do your customers like to do in their downtime?
This is a very brief guide and I would recommend that you download Hubspot’s buyer persona template to really get to grips with everything that you should cover.
Whilst it’s nice to have a neat idea of your perfect customer, real life isn’t really like that and as such, you should create negative personas that allow you to consider what you don’t want in a customer. This will allow you to cover your bases and ensure that you understand how you should work to exclude the people who won’t buy, or will be unhapppy with, your product or service.
Hubspot point out:
For example, this could include professionals who are too advanced for your product or service, students who are only engaging with your content for research/knowledge, or potential customers who are just too expensive to acquire (because of a low average sale price, their propensity to churn, or their unlikeliness to purchase again from your company).
So consider all your bases and your customers – both good and bad – and from every angle. Think about what they want and how you can meet their needs.
For example, you may have come across this post because you’re interested in blogging and want to know, perhaps, how much you should set aside as a blogging budget.
You want to know why it’s a good thing to blog, as well as how often, and what the benefits to your business are.
Your ‘problem’ is that you’re not sure how you should approach blogging and this post seeks to address that and send you away with a clearer idea of what you should be doing.
It solves your problem whilst at the same time, underlining the fact that we, as professional bloggers, know what we’re talking about.
Blogging is a Skill
A good blog should be well written.
Whilst blogs did begin life as weblogs which were often poorly constructed in the early days of the web, now a quick glance at your competition will no doubt flag up that they have a content writer on the case. You can write your own blog, but very few small business owners have the time.
Those that do attempt to plan and write their own blog tend to follow a familiar pattern.
- Blog posts appear on set days each week for the first month or so
- Posts get shorter as time constraints kick in
- Blogs start to appear less often and get shorter with each one
- Posts tail off altogether
Research shows that whilst 60% of businesses start a blog, 65% of these will not have updated it in over a year. Small business owners are quick to abandon a blog when they don’t see the immediate results that they expect. And this can harm a business as it reduces trust in the website and gives the impression that the company has little staying power and a limited budget.
Blogging – and content marketing in general – takes planning, like most things in business.
In fact, those businesses that plan their content in advance tend to gain more ROI than those that don’t. Companies that don’t plan their blog are more likely to abandon it and essentially damage the credibility of their website.
With this in mind, before you start on any campaign, consider the following:
- Why are you starting a blog? What are your business goals? Any business endeavour without a plan is more likely to fail than if you understand why you’re blogging and what you hope to achieve.
- Who will plan and write the posts? Will you use an internal member of staff or employ a content writer/agency?
- How will you measure the blogs’ effectiveness? Will you set up analytics to measure the traffic, monitor social media, etc.?
- How will you get the blog noticed? Will you use social media? Do you have all accounts set up and understand where your audience is?
- Who is the blog aimed at? Do you have buyer personas set up and an understanding of exactly who your audience is?
Your Blog Budget
For smaller businesses, the cost of blogging is often the difference between a blog and none. With this in mind, you should consider all of the above alongside what you hope to achieve in terms of ROI. If you have a member of staff that you can give the responsibility to, then this will have to be worked in (wages, extra hours). If you’re looking to take on a member of staff then you will have to consider the cost of this too.
Not many small businesses can afford to take on a dedicated blog writer, but often content and social media marketers have blogging as a part of their overall skillset. However, if a new member of staff is unthinkable, then the answer may be to employ a content writer or agency.
Content writers and agencies will work with you to come up with a suitable budget and a content plan going forward. You can hire a freelance writer in your niche – preferably who also has marketing and some SEO experience – or you can purchase content as and when you need it through various, dedicated sites online.
I wouldn’t recommend the latter.
You get what you pay for with writing just like anything else and whilst it might be tempting to pop up a $10 blog a couple of times a week it’s unlikely that it will provide you or your audience with any value.
Shop around and get some quotes.
Ask what is included for the money and ensure that you target those within your niche, especially if it’s particularly specialist. You will be congratulating yourself further down the line when your blog is well-known for its spot-on fashion tips if you employ a fashion blogger over a general writer.
Remember to ask:
- Rates – how much the writer charges per blog post (some charge per word so ensure that you get an upper limit)
- Word count – how many words will each blog post be and will there be any room for manoeuvre?
- Expertise – what experience does the blogger have in your niche? Can they demonstrate this with links/references?
- Titles/planning – does the blogger come up with titles and an editorial plan?
- SEO – does the blogger understand how to work with keywords in order to boost SEO?
- Formatting – does the blogger upload the post to your blog and format accordingly?
- Images – are these provided for you and if so, at what cost?
- Social media – does the blogger share your content and get involved in discussion on social media? Is this included in the price?
As you can see, there’s potentially a lot of work that goes into blogging. In order to fully understand your business and niche, the blogger will have to check out the competition and ensure that the titles that they choose appeal to your audience. They will have to plan titles in advance and potentially source imagery to boost the appearance of the blog.
It’s a skilled job that can take time and for this reason, you should aim to employ a writer that can tick all of the relevant boxes and provide the best ROI.
Getting Started with Your Blog
Once you’ve got your writer in place and you understand why you’re blogging and what you hope to achieve, then it’s time to get started. It’s at this point that many business owners become disillusioned. They fully expect to see a massive influx of traffic to their site when the blog goes live.
This rarely happens.
Your blog is unlikely to get much attention in the first instance. Even if it’s the best blog ever written, it will take time for your audience to notice that you’re blogging and then to take the time to read.
Don’t be disheartened by this, it’s a normal part of the process and you will soon start to see results.
To boost visits:
- Shout about the blog on social media
- Post to social media often – you can use scheduling tools to help you with this
- Advertise the blog on the front page of your site – often a blog link is an afterthought which isn’t seen by visitors – make it stand out
- Install sharing buttons on your site
- Set up a special blog landing page/lightbox with a special offer for blog visitors
- A/B test your landing pages to further tweak usability
- Be consistent – post often and make sure that you do so at the same times every week so that your audience come to expect it
- Survey your visitors – ask them what they like and what they would prefer to see you blog about
Keep a sharp eye on analytics to gain insight into which posts are gaining more engagement than others. This will help you to further tweak your blogs down the line to ensure that you’re giving your audience what they want.
Many bloggers become a little too concerned with bounce rates and for a blog, it’s not necessary. Blog bounce rates tend to be high due to the nature of how the reader comes into and leaves the site. Often, it’s just to read a particular post and this means that analytics reads this as the visitor having left a site quickly – or ‘bounced’ straight back off it upon arrival.
Bounce rates vary for the kind of site that you have. So you should consider that the benchmark averages for bounce rates according to Google Analytics is as follows:
- Content sites: 40-60%
- Lead generation: 30-50%
- Blogs: 70-98%
- Retail sites: 20-40%
- Service sites: 10-30%
- Landing pages: 70-90%
Blogs then are pretty high and whilst you can adjust this to ensure that it’s more accurate, it’s not 100% necessary if you simply understand that it’s normal to see a high bounce rate. Of course, if you have an ecommerce site, then you will have to look at bounce rates for different areas of the site to ensure that you’re not losing users where it’s important.
User Experience (UX)
Bounce rates are often affected by the experience that your user has when they arrive on your site and in recent years, with the rise of mobile, UX has become increasingly important. Modern web users are sophisticated. They expect a site to follow certain conventions and the following:
- Display and perform well on mobile devices
- Load quickly
- Offer logical navigation
- Offer an intuitive search function
- Use forms that are simple to use and don’t require a huge amount of information to be inputted by the visitor
- Direct the user to where they want to go or what action they should take in order to gain the best experience
This is really just glossing over the surface as UX is a huge discipline that is made up of many parts. However, it’s not enough to build a site that you think looks attractive anymore, it has to appeal to the user and it has to work very well.
For an ecommerce site, a site that’s slow to load can cost $1000s or even $100,000s each year in lost revenue so do ensure that you offer a good loading experience, especially when it comes to mobile. Talking of which, if your site is not yet mobile ready, then you really need to be getting it there going into 2016 or it’s likely that you’ll be penalised by both your users and Google.
When it comes to UX and your blog, consider the use of images and how these can be optimised in order to make sure that the blog aspect of the site loads quickly. You can use a content delivery network (CDN) if necessary to host images and speed up the site.
How Often Should You Blog?
This will depend on your budget more than anything else. The more you can blog, the better, as you will build a reputation for posting quickly and your site will be crawled, and therefore indexed, by the search engines more often.
You should blog at least once a week.
A Hubspot study found that,
“the more blog posts companies published per month, the more traffic they saw on their website. Companies that published 16+ blog posts per month got almost 3.5X more traffic than companies that published between 0 – 4 monthly posts.”
Further to this, smaller companies with 1-10 employees that published 11 or more blog posts each month were able to,
“drive much higher traffic than companies of the same size that publish fewer than 11 blog posts.”
Of those businesses, it was found that they had 3X more traffic than those publishing 0-1 posts each month.
Those companies that published 2-5 monthly posts drove around 2X more traffic than those that only posted once a month.
Show Me the Money
When it came to what counts to the majority of business owners, it was found that those that blogged more often drove sales of up to 4.5X those that blogged once a month. This is of course the important part for most business owners and the statistics prove that more blogging (with a good plan) results in improved sales and leads.
It’s worth remembering too that blog posts have a cumulative effect and as such, once your blogging efforts are underway, they will continue to be rewarded. For this reason, you should work ‘evergreen’ content into your plan to ensure that at least some of your older content remains relevant to your readers.
Hubspot point out:
“Overall, companies that make a commitment to regularly publish quality content to their blogs tend to reap the biggest rewards in terms of website traffic and leads — and those results continue to pay out over time.”
How Long Should Blogs Be?
As discussed previously, short blog posts rarely provide value. That’s not to say that they can’t; some businesses have made short, snappy blog posts into an art form. For the most part though, blog posts should be long enough to provide good value to the reader – who should be able to take something away.
Aim for posts of at least 800 words. You can of course mix it up too and provide much longer and some shorter posts. For example, if you have a site that sells clothing and blog about fashion, then you can create weekly short ‘tips’ posts of under 500 words, as well as longer blogs that discuss the latest trends of the season that run into the 1000s.
Long form content tends to perform better in search – we’re talking 2000 words+ here – so it’s worth creating at least the odd long post. Whilst many people will tell you that long posts put people off, this isn’t necessarily the case. A long blog, that’s well formatted and interesting, will hold the attention of the reader with no problem and research has found that many people prefer long form content.
It’s true that when reading on screen our attention tends to wander and we have a tendency to skim, but we’re also more likely to save a longer post for later and come back to it.
According to research carried out by Medium,
“the ideal blog post takes seven minutes to read and is around 1,600 words long.”
So don’t dismiss longer posts, they could be the difference between your audience reading your blog and that of the competition.
Provide a Hook
Whilst your content provider might be the one creating the titles, do pay attention to what works and what doesn’t for your audience. Your title should be explicit in that it tells the reader what the content of the blog is about. Don’t try to get clever and make the reader guess, they won’t thank you for it, they just won’t read.
Readers tend to prefer titles with numbers and those that address them directly. Nothing annoys people more than an obscure title so get to the point.
Mix it Up
You should aim to get a mixture of mediums on the blog too. Share interesting infographics with others in your niche and accept the odd guest post to provide variety and a different voice every now and then.
Post videos too – tutorials do well for example, so you can have someone in the business put together a video tutorial using Jing to share the screen, or even demonstrating a product. Your blog should be a rich source of information – your audience’s ‘go-to’ for everything within your industry.
As the blog develops, you can become more ambitious, perhaps even add a regular podcast somewhere down the line. Always plan and document your efforts and you will have the pleasure of seeing your efforts pay off when it comes to ROI too. Once you’re really accustomed to producing content, you can consider adding eBooks, cheat sheets and much more to provide even further value to your customers.
You will also be able to repurpose the content that you’ve created to gain even further ROI.
You should track your blog posts using Google Analytics and social media tracking tools. Make sure you get together a spreadsheet so that you can record which posts do better and you can see your traffic grow each month. On social media, engage with your readers and answer any questions that they might have.
Thank them for sharing your content (it goes a very long way) and don’t forget to return the favour when you come across interesting material in your audience. Curated content will work to complement your own and ensure that you provide even more value to your audience.
There’s no doubt that blogging is good for business.
If you’re the owner of a small company it can be daunting starting a blog due to the investment required both in terms of time and money. It’s worth remembering though that your website is an ongoing project which takes constant development if it’s going to be an asset to your business that brings in customers. This means that all content you add to the site is only ever going to make it more of an asset to your business.
A website without content is barely one at all these days. Site visitors expect to be able to hit a site and remain there, browsing through content, to their heart’s content. A site that has a good blog provides a good user experience (UX) and this is something that modern web users demand.
For the small business owner, it’s necessary to plan out blogging activity, making sure that you remain realistic and within budget. As research shows though, it’s all worth it and those businesses that develop a successful blog will be the ones that win out in a competitive online marketplace.
What do you think makes a good blog? Let us know in the comments sections below 🙂