Regardless of how well you know your buyer personas or Google analytics, putting effort into growing a business blog is critical in modern marketing. An estimated 60% of companies in the US have a blog, and many view it as an integral part of their outreach. While blogging began in the 1990’s as a tool for individuals to share thoughts and hobbies with others, companies worldwide have realized the myriad SEO, lead generation and branding benefits associated with consistently creating content. If you’ve been hesitant to get started, fear not. We’ve compiled virtually everything you need for starting a blog that drives results.
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1. Create a Subdomain or Subdirectory on Your Website
While you can utilize a free-standing BlogSpot, WordPress, or Tumblr account for publishing, you won’t receive the same SEO benefits you will if you host your blog directly on your website. Publishing your blogs under a subdomain such as blogs.yourwebsite.com or subdirectory of yourwebsite.com/blog will allow you to build website authority.
2. Define Your Buyer Personas
Do you know who your company’s ideal customer is? Defining the demographics, firmographics, pain points and psychographic characteristics of the people you’re trying to acquire can allow you to create more focused content when starting a blog. Learn more in our article Creating an Epic Buyer Persona Profile: a Totally Comprehensive Guide.
3. Perform Keyword Research
Finding the right keywords to target in your content marketing is a challenging process, but it’s entirely possible with the help of Google Analytics or an alternative tool. Start small, and identify between 15-20 long tail keywords (phrases consisting of three or more words) which are trending in search. Get started with our honest thoughts on the Best Keyword Research Tools.
4. Create a Content Calendar
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Many marketers’ plans for starting a blog have been derailed when they quickly realize they have no idea what to write about. Compile your best ideas for content into a resource that you can use and update over time. Whether you opt for a Google doc or simple spreadsheet, integrate keywords with titles to plan at least one month’s content in advance.
5. Add Social Sharing Buttons
You should make it as easy as possible for prospects and readers to share your words on social platforms by adding social sharing buttons directly to your blog. It’s super easy to achieve before starting a blog, even if you can’t code. We recommend Blog Stable’s tutorial for in-depth instructions to success in 15 minutes or less.
6. Add a Subscription Option
As Neil Patel points out, it’s much harder to retain traffic that it is to generate first-time visitors after starting a blog. Prepare to build a subscriber base by adding a subscription widget to your blog. Consider increasing the appeal by leveraging social proof once you’ve built a subscriber base, or offering an exclusive eBook or checklist to new subscribers. You can win with Blogger Trick’s super simple tutorial.
7. Research Your Niche
Are any of your competitors’ blogging? Who are the thought leaders in your industry? Shift your mindset to stop thinking of these individuals and brands as competitors, and start viewing them as potential allies. Create an enormous list of high-quality, active blogs in your industry before starting a blog:
- Subscribe: By regularly reading other companies’ content, you can gain a sense of where your new blog will fit into the existing framework.
- Build Relationships: Leave comments and engage with other bloggers, in order to have an existing relationship when it comes time to pitch a guest post.
- Define Your Own Take: What’s missing in your niche? Is there an absence of advice written with a dose of sass? Are other bloggers failing to deliver visual content? Know where you can improve content in your arena, to avoid simply adding forgettable content to the mix.
8. Create Social Media Profiles
There’s nothing sketchier than a Twitter account without a profile picture, or a Facebook page that’s never been filled out. Create your social media profiles before starting a blog, in order to have viable platforms for content distribution:
- Find the right networks: Unless you’re marketing to extremely social consumers, you might not need to leverage every social media network. Pick the right platforms to start.
- Invite your contacts: Let your current email list and customers know you’re on social media, and watch your likes and followers grow.
- Post Often: Share engaging content and questions several times daily to gain and maintain the attention of your audience.
9. Create a Content Promotion Strategy
Before starting a blog, know how you’ll drive traffic to your posts. Social media promotion can turn your company new content marketing strategy into a highly-trafficked marketing command center. While the finer points of outreach best practices are detailed in Content Promotion Strategy: 23 Proven Ways to Explode Website Traffic, consider the following:
- Where will you post: Which social media channels will you use for promoting your own work, and the efforts of others?
- Where do my prospects hang out: Are your ideal customers lingering in LinkedIn groups, or chatting in Google+ communities? Do they tend to congregate in forums? Be there with intelligent answers, and links to your content marketing.
- How you can promote others: You need to earn the right to distribute your own work. Share the work of others, to establish sufficient trust with your social followers to post links to your own work without being spammy.
10. Compile a List of Customer Questions
Create a massive document that lists all of the questions your sales, customer service, and social media team get on a regular basis. Not only are answers to these questions the perfect place for starting a blog, you’ll be able to gain even more insight about people who make your company possible. How sophisticated are your customers? What aspects of your product are driving the most complaints? If you’re truly clever, enhance this list with existing content assets, like sales presentations and email correspondence. Repurposing this content can make for some seriously easy publishing.
11. Coordinate with Your Sales Reps
Your company’s front line employees are your single best resource for gaining a more vibrant understanding of your customer base. If you’re really lucky, you may be able to rope a few into contributing to the blog on a regular basis. If you’re not so lucky, schedule time on a regular basis to gain insight into the types of questions prospects ask most often. Use these nuggets of insight as fodder for starting a blog.
12. Learn Basic SEO
Modern SEO is not a matter of keyword stuffing or trying to trick search engines into giving you first-page results without putting in the legwork. It’s about ensuring your posts are optimized to gain the attention of both Google and readers. The following tools are critical:
- Read Google’s Quality Guidelines: Absorb, memorize and apply their information on how to avoid getting banned, as well as the types of websites they reward.
- Learn the Lingo: Take the time to delve into a reputable and well-respected guide, like the one from Moz, which will detail the finer points of on-page optimization.
- Banish Any Tricks: If your knowledge of SEO is more than a few years old, take a careful look at your strategy. Times and search algorithms have changed significantly.
13. Experiment with Controversy
Many a company has been catapulted to the blogging hall of fame and newfound visibility with controversial blog posts. Your chances of gaining notice are best if you take a fresh position on a current event or topic that’s getting a lot of attention. Remember, your aim is to gain readers after starting a blog, not negative notoriety. Rachel Held Evans recommend the following steps for best results:
- Tread Lightly: If you’re feeling really steamed, don’t hammer out your thoughts and hit “publish.” Save the venting for your personal journal, and take as much time as you need to categorize your thoughts.
- Be Specific: Why do you feel differently about the issue at hand? Is it because of 20 years experience, or hard data? Present your arguments in a convincing manner that makes clear sense in order to be controversial, not ranty.
- Be Kind: If you’re responding to another blogger or news item, don’t make personal attacks. It doesn’t matter how you feel about the person, outlet or brand, it matters why you think differently.
- Own It: If things go well, you’ll get a lot of attention. Some commenters won’t be very kind, and others will politely challenge your position. Avoid feeding trolls making controversial attacks, but professionally defend your position when questioned.
14. Try Different Formats
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When you begin blogging, it may feel natural to stick to what you know: answering customer questions. Case studies have shown that focusing your content marketing around frequently-asked questions can yield incredible benefits to your business. However, sooner or later your audience will get hungry for variety, and it’s best to be prepared. Consider the following formats as alternatives while starting a blog:
- List Posts
- Question & Answer Formats
- Expert Interviews
- Explainer Videos
- Curated Content
- Best-of-Niche Link-Up Posts
15. Create Guest Posts
Remember that list you compiled of other bloggers in your niche? Once you’ve built momentum starting a blog, begin sending out thoughtful pitches to share your new-found content marketing chops. Offer to share a post that’s relates to both your company’s niche and theirs, in exchange for a link back to your website. To learn more about the etiquette of writing a great pitch, delve into An Exhaustive Guide to Exceptional Guest Blogging.
While there are forums dedicated solely to connecting bloggers with websites which accept guest submissions, it’s wisest to focus on bloggers you’ve begun to establish relationships with. Not only are your chances of being accepted greater after starting a blog, you’ll be more likely to gain new subscribers by posting on a closely related website.
16. Accept Guest Posts
Free content is the best! When you’re ready to begin accepting guest posts after starting a blog, create a thorough list of guidelines, which can include length standards, your policy on external links, and other factors. Add a call-to-action button to your blog sidebar which links to a page with your guest posting standards. It’s good marketing to hold potential guest authors to the same quality guidelines you hold yourself. Before you accept content, consider the following factors:
- Is it original? Use a tool like Copyscape to verify that you aren’t putting yourself at risk of negative SEO by publishing duplicate or spun material.
- Is the post quality? Does the article offer sufficient value to educate your readers, and help your website rank for new keywords?
- Am I comfortable linking to this website? You may receive pitches from websites in unethical industries. Remember, guest posting is a form of co-branding. Don’t accept any guest posts from companies you’re not proud to associate with.
17. Survey Your Audience
Check in with your blog subscribers, customers, and social media fans on a regular basis to ask about the topics they want to see more of immediately after starting a blog. Analytics are great, but they can’t share your readers’ qualitative feelings about your content marketing after starting a blog. To capture the richest and most accurate data possible, present these questions in a Net Promoter Score survey or other anonymous feedback format using a tool like Survey Monkey.
18. Respond to Comments
When starting a blog, each comment you earn can feel like a triumph. Respond quickly, and work diligently to build a community. Don’t just thank people, engage with them. Strive to make your comment section just as value as your posts, in order to create a space that people want to return to and remain a part of. The best way to spark dialogue is to finish your posts with engaging questions, and ask follow-up questions in your comment section when you receive a response.
19. Make Your Content More Conversational
No one wants to feel like your blog is a one-sided lecture. To inspire engagement, and produce blog articles that people want to read, take a more conversational approach to how you write. With exceptions for brands in highly technical niches, most buyer personas want to feel like they’re part of a conversation, not trying to process a textbook. Neil Patel found a 22% increase in time on his blog when he switched to more casual text, using the following tactics:
- Write in Second Person: Use the words “you,” and “I” to lend a personal bent to your writing.
- Use Short Paragraphs: Nothing encourages scrolling more than a big wall of text. Use short paragraphs.
- Add Emphasis: Does something beg to be emphasized with bolding or italics? Draw attention to your most important points.
- Don’t Be Too Formal: Don’t get us wrong, many of the rules of grammar matter greatly in content marketing. However, you probably don’t need to write 5 sentence paragraphs, or a thorough conclusion which recaps every major point you covered.
20. Integrate Visual Content
Your pictures shouldn’t be an afterthought in your content marketing strategy. Infographics, video, and customized images all have the potential to increase your shareability factor exponentially. Don’t set out to create written content that includes a few visual elements. Starting a blog should require thought towards how you’ll engage as many of the senses possible; a well-rounded marketing plan will include stimulating visual elements, thought-provoking text, and auditory stimulation through a podcast. For more insight and inspiration, see Visual Content Marketing Insights from 13 Genius Thought Leaders.
What do you wish you knew or accomplished before starting a blog? What tips and tactics would you recommend to beginning business bloggers?