Blogging is an investment, and when I say “blogging” I mean using written articles as a marketing asset for your business. The time you spend writing probably won’t get you an immediate return. But with every additional post you write, you’re beefing up your marketing assets a little bit more.
Many bloggers start writing because they have something to say. They’re opinionated or passionate about a particular topic. And at some point, they might find an audience, and they might start thinking about ways to turn their blogging hobby into a full-time business.
If you’re already running a business, you can approach blogging from the opposite direction. You already have something to sell — your products and services — and now you have to build an audience for that.
The audience-building part of this is going to take a lot more than just blogging. You’ll also want to be present on other channels where your target audience is spending their time. But blogging is a longstanding, proven method for one particular channel: organic search.
People are using search engines every day to answer questions, find information, and complete tasks. Blogging is your foot in the door to start getting in front of those people. They need help. With blogging, you can be the one to provide them with that help. And if they find your writing to be particularly helpful, they may go on to read more of it, to subscribe to your email newsletter, to follow you on other channels, to share your content with their network, or even become a customer.
And after you’ve written that article, it’ll keep working for you well into the future. It’s like a garden. You plant the seeds (write the posts), tend to it (update + improve your posts over time), and reap the bounty it provides (growing an audience for your business).
The stronger your content, the more likely Google is to refer search traffic to you.
Your content doesn’t have to be exclusively for attracting search traffic, by the way. You can use the same content in your email newsletters to existing & prospective customers, or you can promote it with advertising, or you can extract juicy quotes and takeaways and use those in social media posts.
And even if you don’t do any of that, original content on your site acts as a differentiator between you and your competitors. While you may all offer similar products or services, there’s only one of you. And by sharing your opinions and perspective on your site, you’re giving potential customers something deeper to dig into.
That’s why I talk about using content as fuel for your marketing. Write something helpful for your audience and get as much mileage out of it as you can. By doing this you’re positioning yourself as the trusted expert, and by providing free help and advice, you’re passively building credibility, reputation, and familiarity along with an audience.
But where do you start? What do you write about? What topics should you cover?
Here’s the approach I like to use: Start with what you think all your customers should know. Then cover all the questions your customers are already asking you. Then do some research to see what questions they might have – what are other people asking online? After that, do some keyword research to find out what people are searching for. And last but not least, look at what other sites are covering.
What should your customers know?
What should your customers know before they buy from you? What are some best practices or handy tips that, based on your expertise, your customers would benefit from?
Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that giving away free advice competes with providing professional services. Clients aren’t buying your expertise. They’re buying the application of your expertise to their personal situation. Broad, general advice is merely a sample of what you can do.
Same goes for how-to content for DIY’ers. You’re not selling the knowledge of fixing a problem. You’re selling the convenience of doing it for them and the assurance that it’ll be done properly.
And what about retailers? I love talking about content for retailers. You have so much potential here. Every product is an opportunity. What are the pros? What are the cons? Who is it good for? And what are those products used for? If you’re selling tools, you can write content about projects.
What are customers already asking you?
This is the good ol’ Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) – the questions that you get over and over again from new and existing customers. Honestly, these will probably be the easiest topics for you to think of because you’re so used to answering them.
You can also offload the work by asking directly. Reach out to your customers and ask for questions to answer. Put a form on your website to gather questions from site visitors. If you have a physical space, put a question box where customers will notice it – heck, even incentivize asking questions by turning it into a draw! (“Ask a question for a chance to win a $20 gift card…”)
What questions are people asking online?
Facebook. Twitter. Reddit. Quora. Alignable. Discussion forums. These are all places where people go when they’re looking for help, advice, and recommendations from other people.
Search on these platforms to find questions that are relevant to your business and use those as the prompt for your blog topics.
You could also answer questions in these places directly, and use your answers as the jump-off point for content you publish on your own site. It’s a great way to do some community engagement and boost your visibility. Why? Because those questions, and your answers, are going to be seen by others searching for answers to the same problem.
Power move: If a community allows it, link to the in-depth answer on your site alongside your shorter response.
What are people searching for?
This is the tip of the iceberg for something known as keyword research. It’s a fundamental part of search engine optimization (SEO) and there are tons of resources out there on how to do it. But if you’re a small business owner, you don’t have time for all that – so here’s my recommendation:
Install and activate the Keywords Everywhere extension for Google Chrome or Firefox.
Go to Google. Search for high-level topics related to your business.
Look at the search keyword suggestions that come up in the search results. You’ll see approximate search volume per month along with competition (how many businesses are advertising against this keyword?) and estimated cost per click (how much are they willing to pay?).
The more competition there is, the harder it’ll be for your content to rank in search results. But low competition also means that there’s less search volume for that keyword. So what do you do? For a new site, my advice is to start with the low competition keywords.
A higher ranking with lower search volume will bring you more traffic than a terrible ranking with high search volume. And as you publish more content, that’ll add up to more search traffic to your site.
Other helpful tools:
What are other sites covering?
“Rip and deploy.” While that might sound nefarious, hear me out. I’m not suggesting that you go and copy + paste content from other websites. That’ll get you dinged for duplicate content (a big no-no for SEO), and besides, it’s just a crappy thing to do.
Instead, I’m suggesting you do some research. Look at competitors, vendors, and influencers in your space. What topics are they covering? What questions are they answering? Go and cover those same topics. Answer those same questions. But do it with your own perspective
Does that seem like a lot? Don’t freak out!
While that might seem like a lot, don’t worry — it doesn’t have to be daunting. What you’re getting to is a big list of questions and topics to gradually work through. How much you cover, and how quickly you cover it, is entirely up to you.
Personally, I like to break things down into groups of twelve at a time. Why twelve? If you want to go really slowly, you could cover one topic per month and have an entire year covered. If you want a moderate pace, you could write about one topic per week and cover a quarter. Or if you want to go fast, you could write about three topics per week and cover a month.
How should you keep track of your topic ideas?
Wrapping up – I’ve covered a bunch of sources for topic inspiration. But where are you going to keep all of those ideas? I’ve experimented with different methods for this.
I think it’s important to be able to write down ideas on the go, so I’ve used the Google Keep and Todoist apps on my phone. They’re cross-platform, so when I’m ready to start writing, I can just sit down and pull an idea from the list in my browser.
Lately, I’ve started using Microsoft OneNote instead. I have a section called “Blog” and each topic idea is a separate page. (I’m actually writing the draft of this post in OneNote right now.) I have Office 365 on all my devices, so I can hop from my laptop to my phone to my desktop and keep working.
For a bigger site, or if I’m working with a team, I prefer to use something more detailed like Google Sheets or Excel Online. That way I can add more information, like who’s writing the post, who’s editing it, when the draft is due, when it’s scheduled to publish, etc…
At the most sophisticated end of the spectrum, you can throw your topic ideas directly into a project management tool. Over the years I’ve done this with Smartsheets, Trello, Basecamp, Teamwork, Asana, Airtable, and JIRA. I know some folks who swear by other tools like Wrike, ClickUp, and Monday.com. Then there are the dedicated content management platforms like CoSchedule.
But at the end of the day, it all comes down to having a tool and process that you’ll commit to using. So go forth, experiment, and find the solution that’s right for you. (And let me know how you make out!)