Publishing a bad blog post isn’t just wasting your money – it may actually do you more harm than good. Here we give some tips on how to cultivate an engaged readership by choosing blog topics that your writer can turn into high-performing posts.
What is a Blog? I ask, because I don’t think a term of art has ever been more fuzzily defined. For some, a blog is a personal website where they stroke their beards and discuss Schoenberg’s Twelve-Tone Period, or share their passion for beagles with a few like-minded souls. Indeed that was the purpose for which the term “Web Log” – quickly contracted to “Blog”, was coined.
For businesses, a blog’s an additional channel through which to communicate with their customers and ginger up their SEO. It may indeed be that, but if it’s to work, it has to be much more. The gulf between these two concepts of blogging is huge, but does a good business blog share anything with a discussion about beagles? I would argue yes, and that it’s important to understand why.
When a user of the internet sees a blog post entitled “How Beagles Were the Making of Me”, they understand that by clicking on it they will be getting an article that can be read purely for its intrinsic interest. They may accept the presence of sidebar links to the NSW Beagle Breeders’ Website – “Litters Weaning Now”. But they expect – they trust – the body of the text to be free of direct sales content; a little haven of commercial inertia, where they can simply read something interesting and useful to the typical beagle-fancier.
What does this mean for business blogging? When you publish copy under the rubric “Blog”, you implicitly undertake to entertain and inform, not to deliver a thinly disguised sales pitch. Breaking these rules not only disappoints them this time round, but will lose their trust for future blog posts. It’s cruel, but with one sloppy, “selly” blog post you can forfeit much of the value of subsequent posts.
So if a blog post isn’t allowed to directly sell, why bother?
Precisely because people have a high level of resistance to direct sales content, blogging offers a way to gain their trust and engender confidence in your expertise. For businesses that sell big-ticket items that customers rarely buy, blogging offers a way to deliver vital education about how to buy wisely in their space; in effect to teach their readers to become their customers.
Getting the best out of blogging requires that you follow a few simple rules.
- Keep faith with your readers by not “selling at them”. Favour the use of forms like “To learn more about…” to invite action, and “We’re often asked…” or “We’re seeing more of…” to draw attention to your own presence in the market space you are writing about. Never use forms like “Turn your beagles into show-winners, with Acme Pet Food!”
- Make use of sidebars as calls to action. Our beagle-fancier will accept the presence of a link to “Beagle Breeders, NSW, litters weaning now” on the page, but the content should be as “clean” as possible.
- Choose topics that entertain and inform, but that you can be seen to be authoritative about. Ideally, they should be about something that you very obviously don’t do as your day job. For instance, a garden maintenance business might blog about indoor plants. They don’t do indoor work, so they’re clearly not selling, as such. But hey, plants are plants, so they have credibility on the topic – they are worth reading. Perfect topic. Similarly, a blog post by a motel chain got great results with a post about lost property left behind by guests – which in their case included a donkey and a canoe.
- People engrossed in a business often don’t appreciate the stories it has to tell. It can take a skilled outsider to winkle them out. Be prepared to spend a little time with your writer to work up some really good topics.