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Lee Odden

Happy New Year! 11 Lessons Learned After 9 Years of Business Blogging

By Lee Odden     Blogging

blogging lessons learnedHappy New Year and Welcome 2013!

Also, Happy Birthday to TopRank’s Online Marketing Blog!

A little over 9 years ago I started this blog as a way to save and share links to industry news. Over the years it has evolved in many ways thanks to our community and our team at TopRank.

Since 2003 Online Marketing Blog has generously shared thousands of posts, reaching millions of online marketers all over the world. Every time I speak at a conference, whether it’s in New York or Sydney or London, multiple people approach me with thanks for our blog’s contribution of insight, tips and useful information. That feedback is priceless and very much appreciated.

Now for some thanks back:

  • Thank you to our 50,000 subscribers and the hundreds of thousands of people who visit via the web and from social networks.
  • BIG THANKS to the companies who hired our agency TopRank Online Marketing after reading, following, listening and engaging with us.
  • Thanks also to journalists and bloggers who reach out, cite us and reference our content in their stories.
  • Thanks to our first time ever sponsors Trackur, Unbounce, Raven Tools, PRWeb, Acquisio and Digital People.
  • Thanks to the authors and industry thought leaders who have written guest posts for us.
  • Thanks to the team at TopRank Online Marketing (Alexis, Brian, Evan, Jolina, Mike Y. and Miranda) that contributed posts, liveblogged conferences and engaged with our community.
  • Of course a BIG thanks goes to Ashley Zeckman for consistent contributions each and every week, including the most popular blog post on Online Marketing Blog for all of 2012!
  • THANK YOU for reading, sharing and providing us with an even richer experience on the web. I hope you find our contributions useful and look forward to connecting with you on and offline.

With BlogWorld’s New Media Expo (NMX) conference coming up next weekend, (I’m presenting Jan 8th at noon) I think it’s incredibly timely for a blog birthday post that shares tips from years of first hand experience. I appreciate that there’s a lot of advice on blogging out there and for those that want to hear from someone that has been at it for a very long time and with great results, this post might be of interest.

1. You Can’t Score Without A Goal

There’s really no way to predict 100% what a blog will do for your business, but at a minimum, a blog can serve as a direct communications platform for your company to reach all audiences that you might want to engage with. Setting goals and having a purpose is essential for any business investment in time and money. Otherwise, how will you know how to create your plan or when you’re successful?

My initial goals were simply to be functional and useful. Then they extended to things like traffic, search visibility and referred traffic to our company website. Now we can count a variety of goals that include customer acquisition, recruiting, industry media coverage, conference speaking and private workshops for companies, industry networking and other engagement, growth, retention and advocacy goals.

2. After the Honeymoon It’s Going to Take Work

When companies launch new blogs there’s excitement about the promise of creating a new way of communicating with prospects, customers, new employes and the media.  The people responsible for creating content often have other responsibilities besides the company blog. Seeing your hard work published for the world to see, the first comments and mentions of your posts on industry websites is exciting.

That excitement, or “honeymoon period” is going to wear off.  Developing and maintaining a productive business blog takes work. It also means working smart. Many of the solutions to that work/hard smart observation are in the rest of this post. Just be aware that after you start a business blog or hire a dedicated blogger, there will be a period of over optimism and then reality will set in regarding being able to maintain several quality posts per week, keeping up with comments and being able to show a return on the time spent.

3. Failing to Plan is a Plan to Fail

When I first started a blog, Minneapolis digerati Garrick Van Buren asked me what my blogging strategy was. I replied that I had none, it was purely an experiment. The look of disbelief he gave was a bit of a lightbulb moment. It took me a while to develop a sold strategy after that, but things really ramped up after I did.

A plan can be as simple as outlining a hypothesis about what a blog will do for you or your company and the steps you think are necessary to reach those goals.  If you want to be known as the king of “red widgets” then planning blog posts around that topic will help advance that goal. That means topics from the reader’s perspective, not just editorialized advertisements for the brand. It also means planning networking, outreach, off-blog commenting and integration with other digital and offline messaging.  A good blog can be a force multiplier for a social media or digital marketing effort.

4. Blog For Your Audience, Not Just Self Expression

I know one of the motivations for many individual bloggers is self expression. The motivation of expression is very powerful. But it can lead you away from reaching business goals.

When it comes to blogging for a business, it’s essential to identify business objectives and audience interests right along with self expression. The flavor of “personality” added to blogged content that serves the needs of your readership is a lot more valuable than a rant. Accurate and timely information is more shareable and travels farther when a business blog has a particular voice. Self expression and business goals do not need to be mutually exclusive with business blogging.

Growing your blog audience means building community. People will often only show as much interest in your business blog as the interest you show in the community. So engage, ask and answer questions relevant to the topics your target audience is interested in. Tapping into those ongoing experiences means content that your audience will care about and a never ending source of new ideas.

5.  Stand For Something

While it’s important to use empathy with your community to identify topics that will attract and engage them, it’s also important to communicate your key values and unique selling proposition.  With thousands of blog posts and even more social media updates published every day, there’s a lot of competition for your community’s time.  By aligning your key business values and unique selling proposition with the content plan for your blog, you’ll provide a stronger signal that will help your brand stand out. A focused purpose of message will magnetize your content and attract a community interested in what you have to say.

6. Grow Promotion Networks Months Before You Need Them

Great content isn’t great until people can find it, read it and share it with others. With a business blog, that means incorporating promotion into the editorial process. The free blog content planning spreadsheet we published a while back provides for the usual, dates, topics, keywords and media. It also includes planning how certain blog posts will be promoted. Make promotion part of the process.

Writing a fantastic post and then deciding to reach out to people you haven’t connected with in a year or more to help you promote it, probably isn’t going to get the response you expected.  As you plan your blog’s overall topics and themes, start reaching out via comments and social networks to the movers and shakers on those topics. Show value first, ie “give to get”.  When the time comes to promote, those networks where you’ve invested time and created value are more likely to return the favor. Better yet, they’ve subscribed to your blog and are already helping to share because the content is relevant and useful.

7. Maintain a Queue

One of the biggest concerns companies have over corporate blogging is being able to maintain high quality content over time.  I can assure you, I’ve learned this lesson many times.  One of the keys to maintaining quality is to stay connected with your community and the industry. Take notes of trending topics and connections that you see. I like to use Evernote to nurture these ideas until they become budding blog posts.

Beyond planning topics and writing in advance, keep a queue of blog posts that you can draw from. Sitting down and writing a 2,000 word blog post like this one can take a long time, time that you don’t have. Rather, add to it from time to time.  It’s easier spending a few minutes here and there on a post over a period of days or weeks than trying to find 1-2 hours of uninterrupted time.

8. Integrate With Other Digital Communications

A blog is not and should not be an island.  A blog can serve many communication and engagement purposes from marketing to PR to customer service. Integrating the blog content plan with a company’s overall content marketing strategy should be a given, but oftentimes it’s overlooked. Blogs can be excellent places for repurposing other digital content.  They can also provide support to other digital marketing content and advertising initiatives.  Integrating key messages from other business communications and promotions into the blog editorial plan will help amplify those key messages in a natural way.

9. Ask for Help

I’ve written over 2,000 blog posts myself which amounts to over 1.2 million words.  It took me a long time to learn the lesson of asking for help. I didn’t hire an internal marketer until I had been blogging for about 8 years.  A diversity of bloggers helps spread the workload, it introduces new voices that may better resonate than your own,  and for business blogging it can tap into subject matter experts that would otherwise go unpublished.

Asking for help goes beyond content contribution to social participation. Giving relevant team members a heads up about a particularly special blog post may result in more social sharing.

Tapping into your community for participation and promotion can be very effective. The key to asking for help is to make it crystal clear what you want the person to do. Make it easy for them to do it and be sure to give feedback upon completion. As they say, “people will work for a living but die for recognition”, so make sure you recognize contributors that are actually helping advance the blogging effort: whether it’s co-creating content, social sharing or both.

10. Adaptability and Agility

Whether it’s listening to other blogs and emerging stories in the news or mining topics most often mention in your comments and the site search queries, adaptability is key. Leverage data from web analytics, social media monitoring services and even Google Alerts to identify mentions of your blog, trending topics and what your community is actually responding to. Adapt editorial as you need to and even “newsjack” to tap into emerging news stories that you can be a part of. This requires speed and active monitoring but can be well worth it.

Speaking of speed, responding quickly to comments on the blog shows you value contribution and participation. Since so much content on a blog can get shared through services like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Google+, it’s important to monitor those services too, in order to acknowledge commentary or to participate in resulting discussions from your posts.

11.  Everybody Makes Mistakes

A blog for the blog owner is like a baby and you want everything perfect. Or like in my case, I’ve been at it for over 9 years. There are things I know that have taken a very long time that someone new to the business blogging world isn’t going to pickup overnight. No matter how many processes, checks and balances that you put in place, errors can occur. Whether it’s a type (the bane of my blogging existence) or a bad link or just bad writing. Did you catch that one? The irony is incredible, so I’ll leave it in.

Few companies have the luxury of a blog editor who can read through every post, check every link and also edit for style. But even when you don’t, it’s important to hold a standard for quality.  Even with that standard, mistakes will be made.  Identify them, correct them and move on.

BONUS.  Measure What Matters

In my world, blogging serves multiple objectives including marketing, PR, Recruiting and Customer Service.  In order for the effort of 5 posts a week (except yesterday) to pay off, it’s important to monitor the KPIs that lead to business value and to make changes

For effective business blog measurement, think about the customer or audience journey to decide what’s important for you track. From creating awareness of your category and interest in your brand, to being included during consideration of different services or products to the ultimately being chosen, creating, promoting, monitoring and optimizing blog content performance is essential. Also think about the differences in user experience according to purpose. For example, the path of discovery, consumption and engagement will be different for attracting a new customer than it would be for recruiting or customer service.

Just make sure you can tap into analytics resources to measure progress and outcomes that the blog is contributing to. You’ll be able to show value of course but also tap into the information you’ll need to optimize performance of your investment.

I could write (another) book about blogging for business, so these insights are just the tip of the iceberg. If you stick around a while, you’ll hear many more. In fact, if you’re attending the NMX conference next week, be sure to find me on Jan 8th at noon in the Miranda 5 room for my presentation on the Mythbusting and Integration of Social Media, SEO and Content Marketing.

If you’ve been blogging for a while, what are some of your best lessons learned?


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