A blog is the classic vehicle for content marketing, and having one is as essential as having a Facebook page. It gives you the chance to talk to your customers as an ordinary person, free from the corporate veneer.
The key element, and the hardest part, is consistent quality. If it’s funny when it can be, serious when it needs to be, and original enough in both content and form, it will be the best marketing tool your company has. If it’s poorly written and made up of canned, stale topics and formulaic writing, it will sit on your site collecting dust.
Traffic = Opportunity
One of the pervasive myths about a blog is that, if you mention a product, people will start calling to buy it. That doesn’t happen, and neither does it follow that the traffic it generates on your site will instantly yield more revenue.
More traffic means more potential. Try to start a two-way conversation. Invite readers to comment or call you with questions. Enable the comments so they don’t have to wait for a filter.
Whether you’re a lawyer or sell organic groceries, your blog can become a testimonial that you’re part of the vanguard of your industry. While “evergreen” content is important (“5 Tips for Planning your Will” and “Is that Watermelon Ripe? How to Tell”) you ought to take some time to talk about the debates trending in your industry. Topical subjects from “How the New Anti-Bullying Law Affects You” to “Organic or Local: Which is the More Sustainable?” will cement your role as someone to look to for the latest news.
People who are widely listened to in any industry are called Influencers, and you should make them a key part of your blogging strategy. Conduct interviews, quote from other blogs, or cite Twitter feeds to make key industry Influencers a part of the conversation. Hopefully, they’ll see it and link back or mention you, and then you’ve tapped into a whole new world of thought leadership within your industry.
Hook & Convert
Every visitor to your website creates an opportunity to add a new name to your email list and, if they like your emails enough to read them, probably a new customer. When a visitor to your site gives you permission to send her content, it’s a conversion. And optimizing for conversions is a science in itself.
Make sure you have a sign up offer clearly visible and that the wording is tied to your Core Experience. Please, don’t ask them to “Sign up for our Newsletter” (yawn). Remove links from your blog that would take the reader off your site. A good example here is a link to your Facebook page; you want your readers to subscribe to your newsletter, not go somewhere to remain anonymous and watch kitten videos.
Businesses with active, strategic blogs enjoy far higher conversion rates than those without. The difference is clear: when was the last time you gave your email to a website when it had no content to offer you in return?
Every industry, from the burger palace to the steel mill to the pet store, has learning-on-the-job built into it. Given our status as independent businesses, customers are more likely to expect our staff to be better informed and able to answer questions than big businesses’ staff. The irony here, of course, is that the bigger businesses usually have the slicker training programs.
An article about the best puppy food is, to your pet store staff, instant training. Make it a standardized message (so everyone is giving the same answer), bring it up at meetings and have printed copies available for both customers and staff as reference material and refreshers. You know your business blog is a success when you see your staff referencing the articles to answer customer questions.
Blogs as Raw Material
When I write a blog for Salisbury Greenhouse, it’s posted on our site… but that’s only the beginning. The blog is the content anchor of our weekly email newsletter, and the reason why it has a high open rate (so more people see our sales information). It gets scheduled to go out on Facebook, Twitter, and possibly Pinterest (depending on its topic). I submit the blog to one of 2 newspapers I write for or, sometimes, it becomes the basis of my radio column.
It doesn’t stop there. As the articles accumulate, I group them together and re-package them as Ebooks, which I then use to build my email newsletter list. The blogs also stay there forever, and I can easily link to them on social media when they become relevant again (e.g. 12 months later in the gardening world).
Show your Humanity
It’s tough running a small business. The margins are small, the pressure is high, and you’re the last one to get paid. To put a cherry on it, a certain number of people will always think of you as rich and part of a corporate elite, no matter how much you struggle to pay the mortgage.
A blog reveals your business’s personality. It allows you to be funny, to be heartfelt, and to take your customers’ side on local issues that matter to them (just make sure you know what side your customers are on). Use as many anecdotes as possible, especially if you’re the visible spokesperson. A personal touch is what elevates a blog from cold information to warm narrative.