Free, user-friendly blogging software has turned the Web into a virtual soapbox. but for everyone from lone individuals to small business owners to chief executives, writing a successful blog is about getting the word out there and actually being seen by people–and that means serving readers, not bombarding them with marketing material.
The most significant way to develop a loyal online following is by creating useful content that readers will consume and share. “When blogging, too many people make the mistake of talking about themselves or their offering,” says Dharmesh Shah, the founder and chief technology officer of the all-in-one marketing software company HubSpot and the author of Inbound Marketing: Get found Using Google, Social Media, and Blogs. “That is self-defeating. If your content is overly self-promotional, it is unlikely to spread via social media, and your blog is unlikely to gain an audience. When writing a blog, the key idea is to create content that other people will want to read and spread. Don’t talk about yourself. Talk instead about your industry or area of expertise.”
Determine the purpose of your blog and stick with it. start by defining for yourself what readers you want to serve, and then build a strategy about how to reach them. “Be true to the goals you set out for your blog: are you providing product information? are you provoking conversation? are you commenting on trending topics? all approaches are valid but you need to determine what the value is that you will provide to your audience and continue to deliver that value,” says Mike Merriman, director of strategic consulting at Mzinga, a social services and software firm. If a blog post isn’t useful or worth sharing, it won’t produce much value for any reader or for the blogger himself.
Leverage social media. Make the most of social media by including “Share” on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Reddit, and StumbleUpon buttons on your blog. “The easier you make it for people to share your content with their network, the more likely they are to do so,” says Shah. “It’s a one-time investment to configure your blog to include these social media buttons–but the dividends pay off forever.”
Make sure your content is SEO-friendly. Get smart about search engine optimization. Identify the key words for searching for a posting’s subject matter, and think about the best way to incorporate those search terms into the title and body of the post.
Shah says that the earlier in any sequence of words those keywords appear, the stronger the signal Google will receive. for example, “Hiring a Patent Attorney: seven things to Look For” will rank better than “Seven things to Look for When Hiring a Patent Attorney,” because the desired keywords, “patent attorney,” come earlier in the sequence. Shah recommends keeping every blog title to under 120 characters, so that readers can easily tweet it.
The single strongest variable in Google rankings is the number and authority of sites that link to a posting. “The more powerful the website that links to you, the stronger the influence on Google, and the better the rankings,” says Shah. The more useful your content is, the greater your chances that other sites will link to it.
Be a part of the conversation, both on your blog and of others in your industry. Drive traffic to other blogs, and respond as much as you can to both negative and positive comments about your own blog. If you allow commenting on your blog, be sure to have the resources to handle negative feedback. If you don’t enable comments, be prepared for the conversation to pop up elsewhere online.
“People are talking about your company or your products whether you like it or not,” Merriman says. “Blogging, as a component of a proactive social business strategy, offers an effective capability for company leaders to engage in the conversations and helps create the opportunity for a vibrant exchange of information and ideas with prospective and existing customers.”
This article is an update of one by Helen Coster that originally ran in 2010.
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