How can businesses use blogging effectively to increase online visibility and build relationships with their target audiences? To answer that, the team at Designhill put 15 questions to four blogging pros.
Below is the video along with some answers to the questions posed (not a transcript). Watch the video to get expert insights from Maddy Osman, Lisa Sicard, and Casie Gillette. (And me.)
1. Why is now the best time to start blogging, and what opportunities does it bring for business bloggers?
It’s like the old saying about trees: the best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago. The second-best time is today. If blogging will be part of your strategy, get started now! It takes time to build an audience and credibility with Google, but once you’ve built that it produces results over the long term.
It’s not unusual in companies for their blog to account for 60-80% of total website traffic, with most of their online leads coming through the blog.
Blogging is important because, up until 2008, more people still used offline (e.g. printed phone books and newspaper classifieds) media for the majority of commercial searches. Online tipped over the 50% point in late 2008 and has grown every year since.
Almost all of us are now conditioned to grab our phone or pop open our laptop when we want to find anything or answer any question.
2. What’s the best way to choose a blogging niche for your business?
If we’re talking about an individual writer—blogging success requires persistence. And it’s really hard to keep working at something and giving it your best effort, week after week, if you are not passionate about the topic. So pick a subject area or niche that you are passionate and intensely curious about.
For a B2B business blog, the “niche” is based on the key interests and concerns of the target customer.
3. How can I figure out what content my target audience wants? How do I come up with content ideas for things to post about?
The best way, inside a company, is to get ideas from your customer-facing people: sales, consulting, customer support. Find out what customers are asking about most frequently, what problems they are trying to solve, what gaps there may be in the information your company provides.
The best way more generally is to understand your target reader. Supplement that using tools like Answer the Public or paid tools like SEMrush or Serpstat.
4. Is there an ideal frequency and word count for a blog to drive traffic, or it doesn’t matter?
There’s a lot of research out there on these topics, particularly on word count, from sources like Search Engine Journal, Portent, and Yoast. Weekly is probably the minimum frequency, though there’s one highly successful blogger I know of who posts only once per month—but all of his posts are 2,000+ words, comprehensive, and extremely well researched.
The short answers are “as often as you can produce high-quality content” and “as long as it needs to be.” Don’t write more if it’s not remarkable. Many blogs with hundreds of posts over time will find that one or two posts drive 10-20% of all views, and their top 10 drive a third to half of all traffic.
In other words, the 80/20 rule fits pretty well here: 20% of your posts will draw 80% (or more) of all your visits.
Storybase is a pricey but powerful tool that not only helps identify high-potential content ideas but also uses “intelligent as-you-type SEO recommendations based on Google search data” to help you optimize your copy for search as you draft each post.
5. How can a writer monetize their blog, and what are the key things to keep in mind?
Business blogs should, of course, focus on driving either sales (for ecommerce and low-end SaaS companies) or leads (for higher-priced, complex products).
For personal blogs – it’s tough. Advertising and affiliate sales don’t add up to much unless you’ve got very high traffic. Go with your passion, try to find an underserved area, then find a few partners you can drive sales for.
Another option is create and sell educational courses online. It’s a lot of work, and an extremely competitive market. But for some people, it does pay off.
6. Keywords play a very important role in blog ranking. What are some tips on keyword research, and what are mistakes avoid?
First, don’t rely on a single tool. Each tool uses its own data and algorithm, so they will produce different results. Look for “Goldilocks” keywords in more than one tool.
Second, don’t get too hung up on a specific keyword density and issues like that. Instead, focus on being the best answer. If people are searching, hitting your page, then bouncing quickly back to search, that looks bad to Google. If they are staying on your page because it is answering their questions, then Google will reward you with higher ranking.
7. How does backlinking play a pivotal role in blogging? How can bloggers do it more effectively?
Backlinks are important because they provide the search engines with a signal of how authoritative your content is. Unfortunately, it’s kind of a chicken-and-egg situation because high-ranking sites tend to get more backlinks, which keeps them ranking high.
Do NOT do high-volume, spammy, automated outreach, and STAY AWAY from “cheap backlink building” services. At best, these are a waste of time and money; at worst, they could end up getting you penalized by Google.
Instead, build backlinks over time by building relationships with others in your industry: companies that sell complementary products to the same market, publications, influential bloggers, analysts, and associations. These relationships can provide business referrals directly as well as help with search by providing backlinks.
When you do outreach, make sure it is professional, personal, and straight to the point: “this is exactly what I want, and this is what I will do for you.” Bloggers and influencers are busy people and appreciate not having their time wasted. NEVER waste their time by sending a message like “I created a valuable resource – can I send you the link?” ARRGH!
8. Search engine optimization (SEO) is an important aspect but can be a little technical to understand for new bloggers. What are some of the easier resources or tools that new bloggers can start using to get a start?
Simply keeping your site clean (e.g., plugins up to date and no broken links) and writing quality content is half the battle!
Otherwise, there is a TON of content on the web about SEO, including a lot of “SEO 101” type posts. I have a post on my site that quickly covers the basics of on-page optimization.
There are also a range of tools. Professional tools like SEMrush may be confusing overkill for those who aren’t and don’t want to become SEO experts, but simpler tools like TrafficTravis help with the basics in plain, easy to understand terms.
WordPress plugins like Broken Link Checker or WP Link Status Pro help you automagically keep your site free of broken internal and external links, which are bad for both UX and SEO. Use the free MozBar browser plugin for Google Chrome to instantly view SEO metrics like domain authority and link types when viewing any web page.
9. How do you know when to stop overloading your audience with content so they are not overwhelmed?
I’m not sure it’s possible to overwhelm an audience; they can easily tune you out. Again, focus on adding value. Don’t publish three, four, or five posts per week just for the sake of hitting that number. Make sure everything you produce adds value for your audience. Do that, and this won’t be a worry.
Also, keep in mind that not everyone will see everything, and even if they do, they may not remember. It’s important to use repetition BUT use if carefully. It’s a fine line. It’s helpful to repeat certain key information from time to time, but do it in different ways, in different contexts, and in different formats.
It’s the old adage “a customer has to hear a message seven times before it sticks.”
10. Do you always have to “think of the sell” when writing? Or should you just focus on being relatable?
Focus on being helpful! There’s an expression that “people hate being sold to, but they love to buy.” If you go overboard with the salesy-ness, you’ll turn people off. But if you focus on being helpful, and just let people know how they can do business with you, you will capture the buyers without turning off all of your other readers.
Note: Be careful with pop-ups! A classy slide-in with an offer or asking for a blog subscription is fine. Two pop-ups is annoying. Three will drive away most visitors.
11. A lot of people think that having technical expertise and knowing how to code is essential to be a blogger. What do you have to say about that? Would you like to share any examples?
That is not the case. With today’s tools, anyone can start a blog with pretty much zero coding skills. It does actually make some things easier to have some basic HTML knowledge, but again you can find code snippets for any purpose using a Google search. E.g., I want to center an image in the sidebar on my bog, how do I do that with HTML? It’s easy to find.
I’d recommend starting with a book like WordPress for Dummies because in the end it will save you a lot of time; but it’s not a requirement.
12. There are so many blogs out there. How can a blogger stand out?
There’s only one you! Be yourself. Don’t just regurgitate or repackage what everyone else is saying. Find your voice. Have a unique point of view. Become an expert in a specific area.
It’s essential to understand your audience and their problems and speak their language, but with millions of blogs out there, that’s not enough.
Get to know the popular influencers in your space and figure out how you are different. Gini Deitrich developed PESO model. Brian Carrol writes almost exclusively about empathy marketing. Tony Zambito is “the guy” when it comes to developing customer personas. They are all, broadly speaking, in “B2B marketing” but each has their own niche.
13. Can you share some recent changes in the Google algorithm which have affected the search rankings? What are the key things to keep in mind to rank on Google?
Generically, SEO has splintered over time. It’s not just about understanding the basics of SEO, like writing authoritative content and getting high-quality backlinks.
It’s also about understanding how to do SEO for your type of business: local SEO (heavily mobile) vs ecommerce SEO (heavy on schema markup) vs. B2B SEO (national or global scope, emphasis on keyword research and content optimization).
Specifically, Google is always re-evaluating content freshness. So, for example, if you wrote a great post a while back about “how to run an effective business meeting,” you’d need to update that this year to reflect WFH and the fact almost all meetings are now remote. Otherwise, someone with newer, more relevant content for 2020 will take your spot.
14. How can one know about the specific mistakes they are making in blogging? Are there any tools that do this analysis?
Too many pop-ups – particularly large, screen-takeover type popups. These really wreck the mobile experience, so Google hates them, and will punish you.
One mistake more for mature blogs that have been out there for a while, is you’ve probably got some obsolete posts that are no longer relevant and no longer draw traffic, but they are still using up some of your “crawl budget” with Google. An example a year from now will be my COVID research posts this year.
To keep your site clean and optimized, take down those obsolete posts and redirect them to other, more popular and relevant content on your site.
Free tools like BrokenLinkCheck.com can help you keep your site clean of broken outbound links, while Screaming Frog can help you identify content issues like duplicate or missing meta tags.
15. We often read about blog awards extended to bloggers. Can you throw some light on who organizes these awards, and how to participate in them? Also, do they really add to a blogger’s visibility?
There are quite a number of awards out there. One group I’m involved with every year, as a judge, is the B2B Marketing Zone MVP awards. Onalytica also recognizes top bloggers and influencers.
Three things to know:
- It’s nice to win awards. It’s recognition of your work and is gratifying. And usually it will lead to some increased traffic and credibility. But it’s not world-changing.
- The organizations that give out the awards are doing it largely for their own PR – it gets them attention and confers some degree of authority on them.
- Ultimately, blogging success is about meeting the needs of your readers and growing a loyal audience. Awards are nice, but delivering consistent, relevant, high quality content over time is what really matters in terms of your blogging results.
Thanks for this content. I have learned many new things that will surely help me scalling up my design business.
Tom Pick says
You’re most welcome, great to hear this was helpful to you! Good luck scaling up your business.