Presentation to the Shenandoah County Chamber of Commerce's Rev-Up Marketing Seminar Series on October 4, 2017
You're all in different places
Good evening! I’m delighted to be here and I want to say thank you to those who had time to answer the survey I sent out last week (CLICK HERE for survey results). You represent a spectrum of positions when it comes to online presence and visibility—from no website at all to a website with a blog—and some of you are just starting and trying to figure things out. Many of you just want to crank things up a notch and are trying to decide where it makes the most sense to invest your time and marketing dollars. Only a couple of respondents say they are already blogging with any regularity.
My goal today is not to convince you that you need a blog – you may not need one at all. But I do want you to understand what a business blog is, what it can do for your online visibility and engagement with your customers, and how you can decide if it’s for you or not. Because even if it’s not for you now, it may be at some time in the future.
This is not the place or time to get into exactly how to set up a blog, but your chamber director should know that there is a fair amount of interest in a “How To” workshop on that topic. I’ve also created a resource handout with my best suggestions for where to go if you want more information and training, as well as quite a few ideas on blog content.
Let’s start with a big-picture view of marketing and a definition of a blog.
The common definition of “marketing” is the action or business of promoting and selling products or services. That’s certainly accurate, but I’d like to suggest “marketing” might also be defined as a combination of strategies that reduce the friction between a potential customer or client and their decision to purchase a product or service from you. You want to remove the barriers, be they psychological or tangible, that are keeping them believing they need your product or service or from choosing yours over other options they might have.
The word “blog” is short for a “weblog” – and that is a website in which a blogger produces an ongoing online narrative. For you as small business owners, a business blog is no more—and no less—than a content management tool (CMS)—a way to offer content that provides value to your customers and prospects and helps them know, like, and trust you and your offerings enough to hand over their credit card.
This content is typically posted by you —or someone in your organization — with some regularity (at least monthly, but preferably weekly) and the type of content should not just be sales content, but should also include relevant helpful information, problem-solving, education, entertainment, and public service content. The regularity is important so your readers come to expect your content, but they can consume it and share it at their convenience 24/7 – that’s another way you’ve reduced the friction between your business and your customers.
Typically, we find business blogs integrated into a business website, and you’ll often see it as one of the major menu categories on a business site, along with HOME, ABOUT, PRODUCTS, and CONTACT US, etc.. It certainly doesn’t have to be called BLOG – It might be called NEWS or TIPS or RESOURCES or UPDATES or WHAT’S HAPPENING, but it’s a blog because there is new, fresh content posted at intervals. Every new entry is called a post, not to be confused with the pages on your site where your visitors will find the more static content that doesn’t change very often.
Do you really need a blog?
Some of you will remember Chuck Maddox – He and I served together on the First Bank board for many years, and whenever there was a discussion about where to build branches or invest money, he always shared this bit of country wisdom, “If you want to shoot ducks, you have to go where the ducks are.”
Every year, more and more of your potential clients are online and are expecting you to be online, but while a website has become almost essential, a blog is not.
You should NOT consider a blog
…if any of the following applies to your situation:
- If you don’t think your prospects are likely to read or respond to online content
- If you think offline referrals and networking are more effective in your industry.
- If you’re not willing to post regularly
- If you’re not willing to post interesting, valuable content
- If you know you won’t take the time and you don’t have anyone else in your organization to create content and you don’t think it’s cost-effective to pay someone else to do it for you.
A weak blog that hasn’t been updated in months is worse than not having a blog at all.
You should consider a blog
…if you think these potential benefits of a blog can help your business’s customer engagement and online visibility:
- When your blog subscribers get an email notice that you’ve posted new content, it’s a friendly nudge to remind them that you’re there and ready to help them when they need you – it keeps you “top of mind,” even if they don’t read every single email you send.
- When you regularly add content to your blog, it can greatly improve the SEO—search engine optimization— of your whole website and make it more likely that Google will include your site in its search engine results for the keywords you’ll use. Google loves FRESH content!
- When someone puts “insurance agents (or beauty salons, or bed & breakfasts, or antiques) in Shenandoah County,” will your business pop up on the first page of Google search results?
- When you post valuable and engaging content related to your business, you begin to establish yourself as having knowledge and authority—someone your prospects will turn to when they need what you’re selling.
- Online content is easy for your readers to share – by email or social media. If you wow them with your content, they’ll help you by sharing it with friends and family. This can be powerful.
- New content makes your site seem fresh and current, especially if you display your latest content somewhere on your homepage so it looks a little different every time someone visits.
- You can provide value to your followers by answering their questions and helping them solve their most pressing problems relating to what you do. If you find yourself answering the same question repeatedly, this might be the perfect content for your blog.
- You can promote community and nonprofit events in your area by including information about them and their events on your blog.
- You can shine a spotlight on your best clients/customers by congratulating them on your blog when they achieve milestones.
- A blog can be used in conjunction with an email service provider to build a larger email list for your business. I’ll speak a bit more about that later.
- You can notify your followers when you’re having a sale or offering a special discount, new product, or holiday package.
Notice that I put the sales use of a blog last on the list. That’s because if you use your blog primarily to promote yourself, readers will stop paying attention and delete notices of your posts without reading them.
What should you write about on your blog?
Talk about what you know!
- A landscaper could write about how to choose the right plants for the season in your area
- A B & B could write about the health benefits of a weekend of being unplugged from cell phones
- A beauty salon could write about popular hairstyles or outrageous trends
- A mechanic could write about how to check a timing belt or change a tire
- An insurance agent could write about the pros and cons of long term care insurance or what kinds of insurance you need for your college kids
- A nonprofit could write about success stories from needs they’ve met or talk about how they spend every donated dollar
- A fitness center or coach could talk about age-appropriate exercises or fitness tips
- A restauranteur could write about what goes on in the kitchen or how they source their foods
Your industry trade association may offer content or ideas you can use for your blog, either free or by subscription.
Ask your customers/clients what’s on their mind. Create a short survey to give to people when they come in your store, or use SurveyMonkey.com to create a short survey to email. You’ll be surprised how many ideas you might find for future blog posts this way.
Use Feedly.com to sign up for RSS feeds from bloggers who write about topics in your industry or when articles are published online for keywords you specify. This will give you an idea of what topics are current in your industry – you can share these on your blog or write about your own perspective on what others are talking about. Curated content saves your readers time when you pick out the best information and present it to them clearly.
In my handout, I’ve included a list of ideas for things to write about.
Let's get specific…
Okay, let’s just do a little bit of quick brainstorming. Get out a sheet of paper and a pen. I've provided a more expanded handout with a Brainstorming Exercise for blog content, but let's do a bit here:
- What are some questions you get frequently from customers or prospects?
- What are some of the most pressing problems that your service or product can solve?
- If your customer were asking you for a list of tips, what might they include?
- What things do you most want your customers to remember?
- What are some things you know about that your clients or customers would love to learn from you?
- What have you read (or seen or heard) lately that might be of interest to your clients/customers/prospects
- If you were going to write a post that begins “Introduction to_____” what might some topics be?
Must your blog topics be specific to your industry?
Interestingly, the answer to this is “Not always.” If you want to establish yourself as having knowledge and authority, you should showcase relevant topics. But you’d be surprised how much your customers enjoy occasional departures from that:
- Inspirational quotes
- Your family’s favorite recipes
- Hearing an occasional story about you, your childhood, your hardships, your successes, your family, your vacations
- Book reviews/recommended reading
- Sharing your favorite tips for relaxing (or reading or getting healthy, etc.)
Avoid politics and controversy – there’s enough of that available elsewhere.
Do you have to allow comments on your blog?
No, the comments function can be turned on or off in your blog’s settings. If you enjoy feedback from your site visitors and want them to be able to interact with you, comments can be great, but you also run the risk of people griping in the comments and leaving a negative impression on others (unless you resolve the problem quickly and tactfully, in which case you might look like a hero).
Who will see your blog and how does a blog help to build your email list?
Do NOT buy into the myth that “if you build it, they will come.” Most of us—and certainly most of your prospects and customers—are faced with information overload every single day. You need to give them a reason to open your emails and read your blog. Your email service provider is an invaluable tool by providing easy subscription sign-up for your blog, easy delivery of your blog content to subscriber In-boxes, and protection that your emails comply with anti-spam laws.
A customer email list is not necessarily the same as your blog subscription list, but once you have a blog, new additions to your email list should be agreeing to receive your blog content as well as any other emails you send them.
Your email list can be one of your most valuable business assets. Think about it: these are people who have said, “Yes, you have my permission to send me information by email.” You should be building an email list even if you decide you don’t want a blog.
An email service provider makes it easy to do this by providing sign-up forms, opt-in confirmation (so you don’t later get accused of spam) and the legally required UNSUBSCRIBE link at the bottom of every email that goes out in your name, giving your recipients the option of unsubscribing at any time.
Give your site visitors an incentive to sign up for your email list and/or subscribe to your blog. This might be a discount coupon, a tip/helpful hints sheet, an eBook, or a How To article that relates to your business. With an email service provider, as soon as someone adds their name to the list, they’ll receive the incentive.
Now here’s the cool thing – an email service provider makes it easy to do a few things:
- Automatically alert your email list when there’s new content on your blog
- Send out a manually generated message to everyone on your list with one keystroke.
- Create a URL/link you can use in your social media, email signature, or other communications that will go straight to an email list sign-up form
- Embed sign-up forms anywhere in your website – a special page, a sidebar, etc.
- They make it easy to create email newsletters, and they provide a way for them to show up on your website in addition to being mailed to your email list.
- You can create segmented lists if you wish – one for customers, one for prospects, one for vendors, etc.
Popular email service providers include MailChimp, Constant Contact, Aweber, and ConvertKit. Most are by subscription, but I believe MailChimp still is free up to a certain number of emails on your list.
Does content have to be written?
If you’re more comfortable talking to your video camera or doing a video-recorded demonstration, recording an audio file, creating a Powerpoint presentation, or sharing content that others have created (with appropriate accreditation), use those and post them on your blog – or better yet, mix it up.
Many of you know Annette Petrick and her podcast ConsiderThisRadioShow.com. She has a blog of the same name, and each recorded episode is posted as a new blog post along with its transcript and a few sentences of backstory.
YouTube makes it easy to embed their videos into your blog, but just remember they are often promoting other people’s businesses instead of yours.
Have any of you tried adding video or audio recordings to your website?
Where do you find the time to write a blog?
Just like anything worthwhile, if you decide it’s important, you must build it into your schedule. That usually means something else must go, but most of us can find an hour a week by cutting out time-wasting tasks, going to bed and getting up a little earlier, or shortening our lunch breaks.
Many bloggers prefer to batch their content creating sessions, so they’ll set aside a whole morning and crank out enough weekly blog posts for the next month. Posts can be scheduled ahead of time.
Do you need to include graphics in your posts?
Most business blogging experts say it’s important to have at least one graphic to go along with every blog post. Not only does it provide visual appeal and make it more likely to be read, but a picture will be more likely to be shared on social media than just a post title. I use Canva.com to create title images for my blog posts.
There are many online sources for free or low-cost graphics, and I’ve included some in your handout, but, of course, you or your employees can take your own pictures and use them in your blog.
Are there good alternatives to a blog?
If it suits your business or your personality to post information for your clients and customers “on the fly” rather than through a more formal blog, there are lots of options:
- A Facebook or LinkedIn page or group
- Instagram if you like to take photos
- Pinterest if their demographic matches yours
- A podcast if you’re inclined towards audio or video content exclusively, but often this works in conjunction with an existing blog.
- An email newsletter
Here’s the bottom line
Don’t get overwhelmed! No one knows how to do any of this stuff intuitively. Most of us with knowledge have spent hours and hours learning by trial and error – and spending a fair amount of money on courses and training.
The Internet is your friend!
You can find tutorials on virtually any topic by simply going to Google or YouTube and typing in whatever it is you want to know about in the search box.
Before you take the time and trouble to add a blog to your marketing strategy, spend some serious time thinking about whether it will really add value to your customers and their experience with your business. Start with the customers in mind and add only tools that will truly help you serve them better.
Go forth and prosper!