If you have a business, a blog can help your website. But, how can a blog help your website? All too often, in the advice that a CEO, manager, or small business owner receives, the details of just how and when a blog can help your business are left out. Unfortunately, this leads to unrealistic, or misplaced, expectations.
What Can I Expect a Blog To Do For My Business?
Too often, businesses have only a vague notions of how a blog can help a business website. As a professional freelance writer, I can tell when a manager or business owner understands nothing more than the fact that they once read, or heard, that a blog can help grow their business website. They have visions of tons of search engine traffic, or doubling their sales, or tripling the number of customers they have. Theoretically, a blog can help accomplish these things, but only for certain businesses. The reality is that most businesses don’t actually need the grand visions they are mistakenly thinking of.
Consider a small local model train store. It is a successful business with loyal local customers, and a profitable extension where it sells collectible model train cars and accessories.
How could a blog help this business?
One thing a blog can do is impart more trustworthiness, or gravitas to your website. Currently, our small train store above has a website with a homepage, a map, and then an online store that sells rare, or collectible, model train supplies. While locals know, and love, the place, a potential customer in another state has no way of knowing whether this is a legitimate, high-end, dedicated model train store that cares about quality and reputation, or a guy who found a bunch of boxes of model train stuff in an old storage locker. Considering subjective factors like the collectible’s condition are very important to an item’s value, customers really want to know they are working with people who know more than what they read in last month’s Model Railroader magazine.
If there is nothing more available than an online storefront, there is no way for this potential customer to distinguish this business from any other online model train store collectibles dealer.
But, while clicking around the online store, he notices a link on the side to an article about why O-scale train collectibles often cost more than similar HO-scale train collectibles. He clicks through and finds a solid, well-written article about not only the differences between HO-scale and O-scale, but about why locomotives for one type are more rare than the other. At the end of the article, he finds other well-written, knowledgeable articles about other facets of model railroad collecting. Now, this potential customer knows this isn’t some fly-by-night toy store trying to sell off junk from the back room, but a reputable model train store that knows and cares about model trains.
It is important that these articles both convey useful information, but that they are well written as well. A well written article that says nothing isn’t likely to impress, neither is an article full of knowledge that sounds confused, repetitive, or just sloppy.
But, since these articles were well researched and professionally written, at this point, this customer feels more comfortable about doing business with the store online. He purchases a collectible train he had his eye on, and subscribes to the electronic newsletter as well. After all, the blog has some nice information in it, maybe the newsletter does as well. He keeps coming back to read the consistent new posts on the blog, and while there notices other items he wants to purchase.
He even shares a link an article on the blog about how to make your water features more realistic looking. This type of sharing is particularly desirable, because people who are model train enthusiasts are often connected to others who are as well, and a link like this from a trusted source is worth more than the most expensive advertising. The store’s blog is critical to getting this kind of networking, because people are way more likely to share a useful, interesting article, than just a link to a page of items for sale.
That means a few more model train enthusiasts come to the website. Even if they aren’t ready to buy, the blog gives them a reason to stick around, and to keep coming back. When they are ready to buy, this will be one of the places they look, and definitely one of the places they recommend to friends.
Notice that this highly successful scenario does not depend upon #1 Google rankings. It does not depend on 10,000 new visitors per month. It does not depend upon each blog post carrying a clear call to action. In fact, all of those goals might actually hurt the ability of this website to capture new business. Let’s look at how.
How Could a Blog Hurt This Business?
Now, let’s take the same example as above, but switch the blog from a well-meaning, helpful, source of information to one implemented by business owner who is too focused on things like increasing page views, and search engine optimization (SEO), and how many sales each page generates.
This blog is keyword optimized for profitable phrases with large search volumes. Every blog post is geared to generating a sale, with a clear call to action (Buy Now, Sale Ends Soon, Don’t Miss This Great Opportunity), and a pop-up window that asks the user to sign up for the newsletter.
Tons of page views show up in the site’s analytics. Unfortunately most of them aren’t buyers. As it turns out, model train collecting is kind of a niche thing. Search terms with tens of thousands of monthly searches are great for a website that makes money off of advertising, but they often attract non-buyers who are just looking around which is expensive and wasteful for a business like ours. Imagine getting twice the phone calls from people who only want to spend $25 on a full train set because they know nothing about the collectible train market!
Remember our user above was already looking at the collectible trains offered by this business. He still clicks that link about HO scale versus O scale, but now, he gets a pop-up begging him to sign up for the newsletter. He closes it, and notices that the article keeps repeating the phrase ‘should I buy HO or O scale’ in ways that only sort of make sense. Worse, the so-called article actually contains very little useful information and instead is peppered with pictures of trains that are for sale and links that go to an order form.
Unlike above, the trust is not increased. Like any pushy salesman, this blog makes our user worried that these guys only care about money. He has no reason to subscribe to the newsletter, or to keep reading. He certainly won’t bother sharing this site or article with his friends.
Instead of gaining a customer and a few more potential customers they’ve lost one. Worse, even if this blog manages to bring in more traffic the readers won’t be the types that are likely to buy.
In other words, this blog succeeds in every way that the owner wanted it to. It ranks high, and it gets lots of traffic, but it doesn’t actually help the business.
Business Blog Reality Check
No matter what you read, a blog is not magic.
I once had a technology writing client that sold high-end IT consulting services, as in multi-hundred thousand dollar contracts of consulting services and computer server hardware. One day the marketing manager expressed a concern that the blog wasn’t “getting people to pick up the phone and call.”
Big contracts like these are generally months in the making. They often involve bids from multiple vendors, and sales process that involves numerous phone calls and in-face meetings. Never, in the history of man, has someone read a 300-word article and then picked up the phone and said, “You know what? I read your article, and I think you are right. I need a dozen consultants and a new enterprise security system right away. How does Monday sound?”
In this case, a solid, well-written blog gets you in the game. It doesn’t generate sales. Everyone knows about IBM, but even if you are big player in IT, people may not know about your company. However, a technology blog with hundreds, or thousands of posts, with useful, insider information, helps prove that you are a legitimate player.
For a blog like this, search is important, but no in the driving millions of readers, sort of way. For these kinds of services, businesses often do start with a search. However, these searches tend to be pretty focused. The whole idea is to find information about a specific situation, not generalized stuff for everyone. A blog full of real-world information is much more likely to show up in a search for something like, “medical processor remote worker security software,” than one that focus on “high-value keywords.”
Business Blog Goals
Your business blog should be a reflection of what you want to project to potential clients and customers. For most people, this means professional, useful, helpful, even friendly.
The goal for blogs posts should be to provide information that your potential customers or clients need or want. Everything flows from that. If your blog is useful and informative, the sales, the traffic, and the new business all flow from that. Do, end each post with a reminder that you are in this business, but keep your sales copy on your home page and catalog pages.
Your blog should feel more like a magazine about your business area than a catalog. A successful model train store blog should sound like the kind of magazine a model train lover would want to read. A big IT security vendor blog should sound like a magazine about enterprise security.
A freelance writing business blog should sound like a good magazine about writing and working with freelance writers.
And then, at the end, it should have a blurb that goes maybe something like this.
Brian is a professional freelance writer. His business ArcticLlama provides numerous freelance writing services including website content, blog posts, newsletters, technical writing, and more. You can contact Brian at 303-731-6605 or by email.