Marcus Sheridan and Stan Smith know blogs.
Both of them generate content on leading social media-centric sites that they’ve built up themselves. The Social Media Examiner recently named Sheridan’s Sales Lion and Smith’s PushingSocial.com among the top ones out there.
So how did they get there?
Sheridan, whose other job is running River Pools and Spas, and Smith, who’s a digital media strategist by day, share the secrets that skyrocketed them to success in the blogosphere.
You already have your material
The purpose of your company's blog should be to bring the information customers and clients want in an accessible, digestible way. So go straight to the source.
Be an active listener, and encourage your team to do the same. Go over commonly asked questions, review customer inquiries and brainstorm topics that people might not fully grasp right away. Each of these is a totally useful, readably blog post.
In the several times Sheridan has worked through that process with companies, he says the team usually comes up with about 100 questions in 15 minutes. That's a lot of blog fodder that's just begging to be written (and read).
Recognize that it's not about you
Personal anecdotes are sometimes compelling, and often the easiest to write. But don't fall into that trap, because it doesn't keep readers' interests as readily as topics that are directly related to their lives. Steer clear of opinions in favor of objective advice.
"They care about how you're going to help them solve problems," Smith says. "A healthy percentage of your blog posts should be offering tools and offering guidance to your readers, so they can walk away from the blog and say, 'I learned from this.'" And that's what will keep them coming back.
Identify your audience
You have to key on your readership for two main reasons.
First, you have to make sure that you target market is neither too broad nor too narrow for your blog to emerge as a success. Consider who your product or service helps, and what ways you can better understand the kind of consumer you're trying to reach, Smith says.
And second, to understand where to promote your blog and introduce the right readers to it, you have to know where your ideal audience exists online. You'll have to know where to find them so you can sell them on your blog.
"There is a sea of information out there," he says. "Simply writing a blog post and hitting publish will not guarantee and audience. You're going to have to go out there and find them."
Be clever and captivating, starting with the headline
Especially in an age where people click links based on how interesting they sound in 140 characters or less, it's important to fine-tune your headlines so they're as interesting, useful and clear as possible. You can optimize your search-engine results with a snappy headline, too.
So what makes a winning headline? It all goes back to your first step: identifying the subject matter for your posts based on the questions people are already asking. If you note a problem and include the promise of a solution, Smith says, "then you've at least got the minimum required to catch a person's attention who has that problem."
Brand and package your content creatively
If your blog is as much a part of your brand as your business’ other online offerings, you can expect people to be more engaged, repeat visitors.
One way to boost your company’s recognition–and better portray yourself as an expert in your given field–is to package a selection of your blog posts into an e-book. That becomes a consistently available, easily identified resource for consumers, boosting your credibility and favor with them.
“The content is the best sales tool in the world, when it's used the right way,” Sheridan says. “Sometimes we just write blog posts and that's it, we're done. That's clearly not the way.”
How your promote your blog–and how vigorously – depends on the kind of business you run. For example, Sheridan’s pool company, which is regarded as having one of the best blogs in the industry, does just fine without a lot of social media engagement.
But Sheridan’s SalesLion blog, focused on social media, exists in an industry where a wide social network and abundantly shared content define success. It can be tricky to place your company on that spectrum, but it’s worth careful consideration.
“Every business needs to figure out where their people are and what platform is going to be the best medium by which they can generate leads and sales because ultimately that's the only thing that matters,” he says.
That said, if you want to spread content, you need to be a savvy sharer. Smith explains that social media require a relationship first, marketing second. In order to build a loyal network, users have to trust your content. And that doesn’t come from simply posting every time you have a new blog post up.
“That will not be as effective as really being a curator of great information,” Smith says. “I try to talk about other things that appeal to my audience 12 times as much as I talk about my stuff.”
Pay attention to ROI
And when you’re considering where to funnel your efforts with blog promotion, it’s crucial to have a way to gauge the return on your investment based on the different content-sharing sources. A program like Google Analytics, which is available free of charge online, can streamline that process.
Engage with your readers
One advantage to running a small business is that you are much freer to engage directly with your consumers than a large corporation is. Integrating that touch in your blog can help keep readers captivated, and it bolsters your trustworthiness, too.
People don’t expect to have meaningful interaction with businesses, so instead of being faceless, provide the sort of service that many customers hunger for.
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