If you’re like most people, chances are you read one or more blogs (for your business or personal interests) on a regular basis. Blogs aren't just a great way for you to engage with your customers and get them to return to your site. They can help your website organically rise in the search engines.
Starting a blog can be challenging, but the payoff is worth it. Take these nine steps to ensure your blog achieves its goal of engaging customers and building loyalty.
1. Choose your platform. WordPress.org is the blogging software of choice for most bloggers and businesses I know. It’s easy to use and widely known, with lots of templates and plugins to choose from, so chances are any guest bloggers or other external resources you use will already be familiar with how it works. (Make sure you host the blog on your own domain, as in http://yourbusiness.com/blog.)
2. Set your goals. As with any customer engagement tool, it’s important to know what you hope to accomplish and how you'll measure your success. Do you want to attract a certain target market? Do you want to promote new products and services at your business? Do you want to create a community and get customers and prospects talking? Do you want to affect your search ranking? A blog can do all of these things.
3. Choose your team. If you don’t choose someone to take ownership of your blog, chances are it will join the hundreds of thousands of blogs each year that fade into nothingness after a few posts. That’s embarrassing, so don’t let it happen to you. Be realistic: As a business owner, you’re too busy to be in charge of a blog, so delegate it to someone else. Make sure that person has a passion for ideas, information and communication, along with writing and editing skills.
4. Plan your attack. For best SEO results, you’ll want to post new content on your blog three times a week. If that sounds intimidating, keep in mind that not every blog post needs to be a 2,000-word tome. Shorter is better online (anywhere from 250 to 600 words works well for most purposes). You can also mix up written posts with shorter ones such as posting a video, posting photos or asking a question and encouraging readers to comment.
5. Enlist freelance help. Your in-house team may not be big enough (or have good enough writers) to generate the content you need. If so, Elance.com, Guru.com or Freelancer.com are great places to find writers who can ghostwrite blogs for you. And remember, it’s not just writing. You can record short videos of you and your team talking about trends of the day, or take photos of new products or what’s going on at your business.
6. Picture this. Photos get readers to click on posts and stay longer on your blog, so you’ll need a source of photos you can use. Don’t try to grab photos from around the Web—this can create copyright nightmares. Sign up with a photo licensing site such as Thinkstock to get professional photos you can use for a reasonable fee or search online for Creative Commons-licensed photos that can be used with proper attribution.
7. Create a community. You do want to allow comments on your site—that’s how you engage with your readers, after all. Just make sure you set your comments so they’re moderated, which means someone on your team has to approve them. This will keep spammers and rude people from taking over your blog. Check your comments daily and reply to keep the conversation going.
8. Make it shareable. Add social media icons to your blog so your users can share your posts or follow you on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Pinterest or wherever else they want to engage with your business. Also set up an RSS feed and/or an email newsletter subscription to your blog so readers who don’t have time to check in there every day can get new posts easily in one place (and forward them to friends).
9. SEO the heck out of it. WordPress offers many plugins and tools that make it simple to optimize your blog posts for search, building your credibility among customers and making it easier for them to find you.
Still not convinced you want to start a blog? You can get many (but not all) of the same benefits by writing for another blog that reaches your target customers. It’s a great way to learn the ropes and build your reputation.Learn more ways to improve your marketing outreach. Check out these sales and marketing articles
. Photo: iStockphoto