Each year, a growing number of small businesses are realising the potential power of blogging as an effective marketing tool.
According to State of Inbound’s 2018 report, 53% of the marketers they surveyed identified blog content creation as the second most important element of their company’s digital marketing strategy.
Indeed, websites with a blog have been shown to accumulate more than four times the number of indexed pages, which is thought to be a key indicator for the major search engines when it comes to search results ranking.
Growing an influential blog in a specific niche enables businesses to nurture potential customers over time. By creating regular high-quality content that informs and solves problems for readers, small businesses can build a highly-engaged audience and earn a reputation for thought leadership, which can, in turn, lead to increased brand awareness and trust.
However, just as with every other aspect of business marketing, a blog won’t get very far without a well thought-out strategy.
Here are the steps small businesses should take to create a successful blogging strategy and place themselves well ahead of the competition.
Step 1: Define Your Blog’s Purpose
Before you even think about writing your first blog post, you will need to precisely pin down the main purpose of your business – in other words, what is your business trying to achieve, first and foremost?
This might be anything from global domination within your industry to being the most popular pub or shop in your neighbourhood. Or, it could be a social aim such as reducing unemployment, tackling homelessness, or finding a more environmentally friendly solution to something.
Once you have clarified your business’s overriding purpose, you should whittle this down to a short, one-sentence statement which will form the basis for all your future marketing decisions, including your blog. You will need to ensure that your whole team is fully aware and onside with this message too.
When considering how best to communicate your purpose (also known as your message), you should also think about the kinds of stories that might support it, as well as the people who are likely to share your passion for it. These stories will form the basis of your blog content strategy. You might want to think of blogging as an opportunity to create and share the narrative of your business’s evolution.
The next step is to identify a few key aims that will help you to achieve your goals and fulfil your purpose. These might be things like raising brand awareness, persuading investors, attracting new customers, or better engaging with existing customers, for example.
Every blog post you write should align with your purpose and key aims to form a strategic element of your business’s long-term marketing goals – for example, one post’s primary objective might be to build your mailing list (attracting new customers), another might be to improve your Google rankings (raising brand awareness), and yet another might be to build authority in your niche (better engagement with customers).
With each post, you will also need to carefully consider what action you want readers to take as a result of reading it, and ensure that you have included a clear call-to-action – for example, do you want them to purchase your e-book, share your post on social media, or subscribe to your mailing list?
Once you adopt the principles outlined above, you will find that your blog has the potential to become a great lead conversion tool.
Step 2: Set Your Budget
Blogging offers a relatively inexpensive marketing method for your business in terms of the financial commitment required. However, what you save in money you can often lose in time spent.
Time is the one resource you won’t be able to do without if you want to make serious inroads with blogging. Planning, researching, writing, sourcing images, editing, proofreading, publishing and promoting content can all be very time-consuming, and it can take anything from 3-8 hours or longer to craft a decent length, high-quality blog post. However, if you do decide to invest the time, it really will make all the difference in setting you apart from the competition.
When it comes to money, this will mostly be spent on content marketing – after all, it’s no good having a blog if nobody knows it exists. It is estimated that most businesses engaged in blogging spend around 32% of their total marketing budget on content marketing. This is a useful benchmark to bear in mind when it comes to setting your blogging budget, if you are already clear about your total marketing budget (which every business should be!).
Step 3: Identify Your Core Audience (aka Target Customers)
Focusing on a niche audience and developing appropriate content specifically for those people helps to ensure there will be strong interest in your blog. It will also make the job of promoting it much easier.
The more narrowly you define your target audience, the easier it will be to identify those people, cater to their needs with your content, and reach them with your advertising and marketing messages.
Your target market or audience can be defined using demographic characteristics, such as:
- Hobbies and interests
- Income level
- Marital status
- Occupation and industry
Questions to ask about your target audience might include:
- Why would they come to your blog?
- What questions might they have related to your industry?
- What challenges or problems (pain points) do they face?
- Where are they already getting their content?
- Which influencers do they follow?
Once you have all of this information, you will be able to map out a detailed audience persona.
As any small business owner will know, customer research can cost a small fortune, especially if you hire an agency for the job; however, much valuable research can be done for free online these days.
For example, Q&A forums such as Quora and Yahoo! Answers can be excellent platforms to discover the types of challenges your target audience may be facing, as can LinkedIn Groups.
Twitter Advanced Search can offer great insights into current trends, interests and concerns, and blog comments on other blogs your target customers read can provide clues about what type of content they are already engaging with.
Finally, Google Analytics offers a freemium service, meaning that small business owners do not have to pay a monthly charge. However, it is well worth signing up for the more advanced features for whatever monthly fee you can afford, as this will give you much more valuable information and will really help you to pin down and target your ideal audience/reader/customer.
When blogging, it is essential to build trust with your audience. By conducting careful research to find out the information your customers are searching for, and then creating helpful, high-quality blog posts around those topics, you can become known as a relevant, reliable and trustworthy source.
Step 4: Audit Your Competitors’ Blog Content
A successful blogging campaign necessitates being at least one step ahead of your closest competitors at all times. Fortunately, there are several tools available to small businesses to help them to achieve this.
Platforms such as Moz and SEMRush can help you to find valuable competitor information, which can be analysed and used to inform your blogging strategy. For example, if you notice that a competitor is ranking higher than your business for crucial keywords, then plan to write and promote higher-quality content for those keywords.
You should also take an in-depth inventory of your competitors’ blog content on their own websites. By doing this you can identify any gaps they may have in their content – for example, any current industry trends you are aware of, new industry research, or little-known facts. Then, use this information to your advantage by covering those topics on your own blog.
In short, notice how other bloggers are presenting information similar to topics you intend to cover, and then try to come up with innovative ideas to ensure you do it better.
Growth marketer, Andrianes Pinantoan refers to analysis carried out by graphics giant Canva, which examined some of the criteria contributing to the success of their competitors’ best-performing blog posts. Here is what they discovered.
Step 5: Refine Your Keywords
Keywords are a major element of the algorithm search engines use when they attempt to understand and make sense of your content.
So, how will you ensure that when a potential customer searches for a specific phrase, they will discover your blog rather than your competitor’s?
The answer is by knowing exactly what your potential customers are searching for and then delivering it. In other words, you need to research which keywords they are typing into search engines, and then include those keywords in your blog posts. Keyword tools, such as those provided by SEMRush, will prove invaluable here.
A word of caution: don’t overdo it! Due to their constantly evolving algorithms, search engines are now able to recognise techniques such as “keyword stuffing”, and will penalise bloggers who use them by suppressing their ranking. To avoid this, make sure that your content is authentic and reads naturally.
Step 6: Develop Your Content Strategy
As more and more businesses attempt to compete in the blogosphere, content quality has become increasingly important. Great actionable content can really help to build your brand’s reputation. Once people see you consistently have something of value to offer, they are much more likely to convert into customers.
As we saw in Step 3, understanding your audience is essential to developing an effective content strategy. It is very important to view your blog from the perspective of your target audience – what do they want to know / see / hear / learn? Focusing on this question, rather than ‘what can I write about today?’ will yield much more effective results. Ask yourself what conversation is taking place in your ideal customer’s mind and then speak to those interests.
For example, say you run a music PR company and you discover through reading comments on several music industry forums that lots of people in your target audience group (independent musicians) are seeking a solution to a particular problem (getting their music heard). So, you write a blog post which offers a solution to that problem – for example, “10 Ways To Get Your Music Heard In 2019”.
Musicians read your post, see that you have relevant knowledge of the music industry and give good advice, and they begin to trust you. They consequently subscribe to your blog and your mailing list, and Bingo! – you have bagged yourself a warm lead and a potential future client.
Another way to drive conversions is to link your blog post to a landing page, as an integral part of your overall digital marketing funnel. This technique can work particularly well when you have a very tightly defined target audience.
Find Your Blogger Voice
Successful blog posts are always either entertaining or informative (or a combination of both). The most popular bloggers offer an authentic, unique and innovative take on whatever topic they have chosen to focus on.
They do this by allowing their individual voices and personalities, as well as their authoritative knowledge to permeate the content, and they will often incorporate their own thoughts, ideas, perspective or expertise into their blog posts.
When developing your own unique voice, remember to ensure that it echoes your business’s brand, purpose and overall style.
Types of content
It is very difficult to create content that isn’t readily available elsewhere online, but it can be done with a little creative thinking. Content about any given topic can be presented through a variety of different media (written blog, video blog, podcast, etc) via a multitude of different formats (lists, prose, infographics, image galleries, slideshows, competitions, Q&As, tutorials, etc). Think about how you might mix and match different media with different content formats to come up with a unique presentational spin on your chosen topic.
You can also use this same idea to repurpose content you have already generated. Take the ideas and research you used for a previous blog post and recycle that same information in a different format. This can help you to reach a wider audience and engage with people who may not have read your original blog post.
For instance, you could take key quotes from a blog post and schedule them as individual posts on your social media channels, along with a link to the original post. Or, on a similar note, you could make the same quotes into images and post them on channels such as Instagram and Pinterest. Alternatively, you could make an infographic out of some of the statistics you quoted in your blog post. This is just the tip of the iceberg – let your imagination run wild!
Topics and Titles
When creating a blogging strategy, it is always a good idea to brainstorm lists of potential topic titles for future content in advance. This way, you will be able to schedule your posts in a logical and coherent order.
Blog post titles are very important to get right. Not only is it crucial to create great headlines for keyword ranking purposes, but a really good optimised title will automatically attract the ideal type of person it’s aimed at. So, always take the time to craft the best, attention-grabbing titles you can.
Try headlines with:
* top tips
* lists (e.g. 10 reasons why ….)
Questions work because they either pique the reader’s curiosity, or promise to answer a specific question they have been seeking the answer to.
Teasers give just enough information to whet the reader’s appetite so that they are left wanting to know more, and are ultimately unable to resist clicking on the link.
Top Tips offer a quick and easy way to take in bite-sized pieces of helpful information about something – they are often concerned with the best way to do, avoid, or deal with something difficult.
Lists are popular as they are generally easy to read and digest, and people can quickly get a handle on the point you’re making. It’s also easier for you – the blogger – to refine the points you are trying to make with a tighter structure rather than a convoluted ramble.
Comparison posts can lead to a higher rate of traffic and conversions. For example, reviewing and comparing products or brands in your industry can lead to more traffic from people who are already seeking to buy the types of products or services you are offering.
Finally, we can’t mention content without a passing reference about factual and grammatical accuracy. Be sure to fact-check everything when carrying out your research, and always edit and proofread your work carefully to avoid or correct any errors. Spelling mistakes, grammatical errors and sloppy research can destroy your credibility and make your blog appear amateurish.
Step 7: Plan How You Will Promote Your Posts
You could have the best blog content in the world, but if nobody ever sees it all your hard work will be in vain. There are several tried and tested tactics for promoting blog posts, and you should plan to employ a variety of these when creating your blogging strategy.
One very popular promotional approach with small businesses is inbound marketing, a method which requires a lot of determined effort upfront.
To do this successfully, you will need to identify and build relationships with key influencers in your industry – in other words, people your potential customers respect and trust. These influencers command authority in their niche which affords them very large audiences – audiences made up of potential customers for your business if you can reach them.
There are a plethora of ways you can attempt to build relationships with influencers – from commenting on their blog posts and sharing their content, to mentioning and linking to them in your own blog posts. Once you are on the influencer’s radar, make direct contact and offer to write a guest post for their blog. If they accept, this will give you instant access to a vast and already engaged new audience.
Another effective method of promoting your blog is to interview experts working in your industry. This can be done in a written Q&A blog post, as a video blog post, or as a podcast which can be posted to your blog. This method enables you to build credibility and trust within your niche, as well as enabling access to new audiences when your interviewee shares the post with his/her networks.
Other blog promotion methods include: sharing posts on social media; building a mailing list; designing lead magnets; being a guest interviewee for other bloggers; posting on popular forums; and optimising your blog for search engines.
Finally, remember to incorporate a “Share” button into each of your blog posts. Make it extremely easy for readers to share your content via Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn or Instagram. All the popular blogging platforms have a widget you can use to integrate a Share button into your blog. Doing this can help you build your audience through virtual word-of-mouth.
Step 8: Define Roles & Responsibilities and Delegate Tasks
Blogging necessarily involves many different stages, skills and qualities. For this reason, if you have a team behind you ready and poised to implement your blogging strategy, you will be much more likely to see great results.
When delegating tasks to members of your team, you should try to encourage a sense of ownership for the specifics involved in each role. Some of the key tasks involved in blogging and content marketing include:
- Keyword research
- Content research – including fact-checking
- Text editing
- Graphic design and image editing
- Video editing
- Scheduling (i.e. editorial calendar management)
The exact number of people you will involve very much depends on the size of your marketing department, your budget, and the skills already available within your team. Indeed, it is quite common for small businesses to have one or two people responsible for multiple roles.
Step 9: Create A Schedule – Use checklists and reminders to keep you organised
Creating a detailed schedule is an important element of your blogging strategy, which will hold you accountable and help to ensure that your blog posts are developed and published on time. This will result in a consistent stream of content output, whilst enabling you to get into a blogging rhythm that your readers will come to recognise and grow familiar with.
Consistency and regularity rather than frequency are the key factors. It doesn’t really matter how often you post as long as your readers know how frequently you do post and you stick to that. However, bear in mind that if you disappear for an extended period of time you run the risk of losing your audience completely, so it’s advisable to post at least once or twice a month to start with, increasing this over time if appropriate.
Blogging isn’t just a numbers game. Other factors such as content quality and SEO also play an important role in any blog’s success. There is no right or wrong when it comes to how often you should post. Be prepared to experiment and conduct analysis on your blog over time to find out which types of posts fare better than others, and adjust accordingly. Never sacrifice quality for quantity. Having a plan and a calendar can help you to be consistent in both.
It’s a good idea to take a long-term overview of your blogging strategy, and to plan out your content schedule up to six months ahead. This will enable you to step back and see the bigger picture. Some businesses opt for a shorter pre-planning period, but be mindful that anything less than a month tends to lead to less effective results. Taking the time to plan out each blog post in advance removes much of the pressure of actually writing the posts, since the difficult part – coming up with the idea – has already been dealt with.
Organise weekly scheduling meetings with your team to ensure that everyone involved is on track and reading from the same page. One item which should always be on the weekly agenda is a review of your editorial calendar, to ensure that it remains relevant and fit for purpose. Your editorial calendar should be planned so that it aligns with the intended aims of your blogging strategy, which you will have pinned down in Step 1. Many small businesses use a project management tool such as Trello or CoSchedule to create and manage their blog content calendars.
It is good practice to pinpoint the resources needed for each post when ordering and scheduling individual posts. One efficient way to plan research in advance is to come up with three or four topics in your niche that can be turned into a series of posts. This will enable your team to find their flow and can ultimately increase productivity. It will also entice readers to subscribe to your blog, so that they will be notified when the next post in the series is published.
Decide in advance how long your average posts will be. This will give you some indication of how long they will take to write, an important consideration when it comes to planning and scheduling. It is generally believed by digital marketing experts that search engines now give preference to longer posts. After analysing 1 million search results, a study by backlinko discovered that the average length of pages ranking on the first page of Google contains 1,890 words.
Finally, try to make room for occasional guest posts on your calendar as they will help to promote your blog and your expertise. They can also expose you to a new audience and provide your site with valuable back links.
Step 10: Track & Analyse Engagement Metrics
There are many different types of metrics that can be used to measure outcomes against goals, all of which can help small business owners to analyse, evaluate and improve their marketing efforts. The most commonly used metrics for bloggers include engagement metrics, distribution metrics and conversion metrics.
Engagement metrics might include things like the number of post comments, subscribers, shares, Likes, Re-Tweets, Follows and backlinks, plus factors such as bounce rates and name-checks on other blogs.
Distribution metrics help small business owners and bloggers to track how many people found their content via a specific channel and who those people are, as well as providing other valuable information such as which keywords your target audience is searching for.
Conversion metrics measure how effectively your blog content marketing is persuading people to take a specific action – these actions might include, for example, subscribing to your mailing list, sharing your post on social media, clicking through to your landing page via your call to action (CTA), or buying your product or service.
There are a number of analytics tools on the market which provide business owners with comprehensive and insightful information, enabling them to learn a great deal about how their business is performing. Perhaps the best known of these is Google Analytics, which should be adequate for most small businesses.
As we have seen, metrics can be very helpful, but they’re completely pointless if you haven’t set any meaningful goals in advance to measure them against. This again takes us all the way back to Step 1, where we looked at the importance of defining the purpose of your blog and the specific goals you need to achieve along the way.
Once you have set those goals, you can then assess which particular metrics will best help you to track your progress towards them. Only then can you really understand how far certain actions are contributing to a specific outcome – for example, how many blog subscriptions have later converted to actual sales.
As we have seen, a successful blogging strategy involves several steps and many key elements.
These include: clarifying your purpose and refining your message; setting a realistic budget; defining your target audience in detail; assessing what works for your competitors and identifying the gaps in their content output; refining your keywords; generating a coherent range of varied, multimedia content ideas in multiple formats; putting in place a plan to promote your content effectively; defining roles and responsibilities within your team; scheduling and pre-planning individual blog posts; and tracking, measuring and evaluating key metrics.
To sum up in brief, the more unique, authentic and well-planned your content and the more effectively you target your chosen audience, the easier it becomes to build a loyal following and potential customer base through your blog.