Back to Basics: How to Write an Effective Business Blog
Today we are going to get back to one of the basic elements of digital content marketing: blog writing.
While this medium has been around for nearly two decades, I’m often surprised that clients still have questions about what a blog should include and how it should flow. I want to address some of the most common questions here – specifically as they pertain to business blogs. What I mean by a “business blog” is any blog that you write for your job; not your personal hobby (though you can apply these tips to those, too).
What should I write about?
The first question I typically hear from potential clients is often asked sheepishly. “What should I … write about?” they ask. The beauty of a blog is that it can be about most anything.
To help clients unravel what to write about, I ask a series of questions. Usually I ask them to describe what their day job entails. Then I advise them to start there.
So, as you’re planning your own blog, here are some questions to ponder: What is your business about? How did you get your job, how long have you been there, and what are you responsible for? What are some of the biggest to-do items on your checklist for the year? What are some of your biggest challenges? These are all potential blog topics.
You can also tell origin stories – of your company or of a particular product. You can also share case studies (with customer permission). If your legal team agrees, you can give a peek into what you’re working on behind the scenes.
Another consideration to help you generate ideas is: What is the overarching goal of your blog? For example, you may choose to treat your blog as an online newsletter. In this case your focus will be to cover things as they are happening, recap events, and discuss industry trends. You can also use the space to announce promotions, contests, and deals.
Remember, you don’t have to be locked in. You can change the type of blog with each post, if you wish.
How long should my blog be?
This is invariably the next question I hear. Sometimes it’s even the first question raised. Perhaps this is a result of post-traumatic stress from collegiate term papers, but length is a huge question on clients’ minds.
To be fair, it’s a good question, because you need to assess both how much time this effort will take as well as how much you can realistically afford to give.
A wide rule of thumb for business blogs is to write anywhere between 300-2,000 words per post. It’s quite a range. When determining the length for your own blog, part of your decision will depend on how much time you have to dedicate. And part depends on your audience: Will they stick around and read a long post? Or are they strapped for time and need a quick hit? You know your audience best.
Generally speaking, I suggest 500-750 words as a solid target.
What style of writing is appropriate for a blog?
There are many styles of business writing, from formal communication and contracts to more casual and spinny marketing copy.
A blog falls in the middle. It’s got a structure (more on that in a moment) and should be interesting and engaging while also being casual and personal. By personal I don’t mean giving a recap of your kid’s soccer game. Rather, take a personal spin on a business challenge – and include a touch of humanity. You may be able to describe, for example, how you learned to interact with tricky clients after coaching your kid’s soccer game.
Remember that whether you’re writing a B2C or B2B blog, it’s still people who are reading it. Talk to them accordingly. You can educate and inform without being condescending.
As much as possible, try to write like you speak. One trick to help you find your voice is to record yourself as you explain a product or a business scenario to a colleague. Play back the recording and listen to how you talk – how you describe those complex situations in lay terms. Write that down (without the “ums” and other filler words) to sound natural.
One final note on writing: if you want to (or have to) write a blog but can’t commit to the time, you can hire a ghost writer. These people are experts who can adapt their writing style to sound like their clients’ voices. To start, you can give them a few samples of your work to show your writing style. They may wish to interview you, too, to ensure they word things correctly. A quick word of advice if you use a ghost writer: Review the post before it’s published to ensure the author didn’t unintentionally mischaracterize what you said by putting the wrong words in your mouth.
How often do I have to write a post on my blog?
Blogs can be published as frequently as daily or as infrequently as monthly.
To help you assess the right cadence for you, I recommend that you brainstorm a series of topics. See how many you can come up with. If it’s a page or two of ideas, you can probably handle a weekly cadence. If you’ve only got a dozen or so ideas, that’s fine – just be realistic and tell yourself that a monthly cadence is where you’ll start.
Once you know how much you want to write, select the day of the week that you’re going to post on, and stick to it. Your customers will start to notice if you always post on Tuesdays, for example. Make sure to block ample time on your calendar to get the post written, too.
Should I plan my blog posts in advance?
I vehemently say YES! I love planning and recommend it highly.
Remember that your blog is not an island, but rather part of your overall content strategy. Its topics should align with key items on your calendar such as promotions, events, and so on. So, plot those in first.
As well, grab your list of brainstormed topics and put them onto the calendar too. Stand back to see how it all looks and where you have holes.
Also know that new things will come up that bump items on your pre-planned calendar. For example, if something big happens in the news that pertains to your business, you may wish to create an ad hoc blog post about it.
If you can carve out the time, I highly recommend that you write – or at least outline – two to three posts in advance, too. I learned this invaluable lesson when working with a former client who frequently had to change the blog plan due to internal scheduling and product release changes. Having posts written in advance was a lifesaver. It meant I could swap things around at the last minute and still stay on track with the publishing schedule.
In what order should my content flow?
Now that you’ve figured out what to write about and how frequently, it’s time to execute. You may wish to outline your post, or start typing and let it flow organically. Every writer is different in this regard. Personally I’ve found that having a bit of structure – a repeatable process – helps the writing go a lot smoother. Below is a straightforward formula for blog post structure that works well whether your audience is B2B or B2C.
- Hook them from the start. Start your blog with a story or something otherwise engaging.
- Expose the problem – i.e., your reader’s pain points. You can quote actual customers (if you have their permission) or distill their problem into a hypothetical scenario. Word of caution: Resist the urge to cover too much ground. You may have several customer pain points or challenges to talk about. Each of those can be its own blog post – you don’t need to cover so much material in one post.
- Bring in the fix. What is the solution? (Hint: this is where you introduce your company’s product or service to save the day.)
- Call them to action. What action do you want readers to take? It could be a click to your website or an activation of a promotion. Maybe you ask readers to provide a comment or to email you or your team. Be clear and specific.
How do I get people to read my blog?
Once the post is written, will people read it? Maybe. Especially those loyal followers who know to check your blog every Tuesday for a new post.
But, as with anything you create, you’ll be best served by promoting your blog just as you would your product.
To do this, create a mini marketing campaign and collateral. When you first establish and launch your blog, you can develop web banner ads to sprinkle around your website to announce your blog and get the word out. Also, make sure to sync up links to your blog on all your collateral – from website to social media to your email signature.
Going forward, you can then promote every individual new blog post as it’s released. For example, write a teaser about your blog and post that teaser to your social media feeds. Update your email signature with a link to your latest blog. Send out a press release or internal communication to your team to alert them to the latest post.
Make it easy for readers to socially share your post. Act-On does this by way of the social sharing ribbon that appears on every page. This small widget can make a big impact on how many people see and share your posts.
Another good promotional tactic is establishing relationships with other bloggers and companies. You can co-market each other’s posts or even guest-author a blog post on each other’s sites, if appropriate.
Finally, you definitely want to employ search engine optimization (SEO) tactics to your blog – just as you would your website. Optimize for keywords in the blog title and subheads. Ensure your links are top-notch. Use alt-text on images.
How much traffic should I expect?
As with any marketing effort, you’ll want to measure your success. Common metrics to consider in blogging are views, impressions, shares, and comments. You may also be curious about referral traffic to see who is driving traffic to your posts.
You’ll start to find the rhythm of what is “good” traffic for your blog. Once you get a sense of the average traffic, set some benchmarks and measure against those regularly. Check in to see what is working (or not) and make adjustments to the type of blogs you write, the vehicles in which you promote, and even the frequency with which you publish.
Any final advice?
I’ll leave you with one final thought: Your blog doesn’t have to be all text. By nature, it’s a word-driven medium. But, you can include photos, videos, and infographics with your post, and these lend visual relief to your post and help engage readers with the topic. A blog is a great place to loosen up and try some new things. Have fun!
Do you have any tips for producing great blog posts? Share them here!