By MJ Plaster
Back in the Dark Ages of the 20th century, customers knew merchants and did business with those they knew and trusted. Big-box stores such as Wal-Mart, big-box services such as H&R Block and online retailers such as Amazon offer little opportunity for you to get to know them. Their sheer size and impact make customers comfortable, but the typical business doesn’t have that advantage. People want to connect, especially with online providers. Connection builds trust, and people will do business with you if they trust you. If you want to bring customers into your fold with minimal expense, read on to find out what no longer works, and what two powerful marketing tools can engage your customers.
Traditional (Push) Advertising is Failing Fast
Ad-supported newspapers and magazines’ days are numbered. Some periodicals such as The Times-Picayune, New Orleans’ daily newspaper, and weekly newsmagazine U.S. News and World Report have already moved to online-only versions due to slow ad sales.
What about TV? The consumer is tired of advertising being pushed upon them, so they turn to ad-free versions of their favorite shows and movies through Amazon Prime, Hulu, Netflix, etc.
Internet banner ads and Google Ads, which were once all the rage, have fallen into a black hole thanks to ad blockers.
What’s more, businesses no longer trust those who make their ad buys, according to The New York Times.
Follow the Money
To determine the best bang for your marketing and advertising buck, you only have to follow the money. Online advertising has shifted from Google to Facebook and other social media. Why? According to a recent New York Times article, effective advertising occurs on the Internet where the viewer is immersed (emphasis added).
No one is immersed in Google, but people do immerse themselves on social media.
Marketing Wins Where Advertising Fails
Marketing does not equal advertising. It encompasses much more. Businessdictionary.com provides the following definitions:
Advertising – “The activity or profession of producing information for promoting the sale of commercial products or services.”
Marketing – “The management process through which goods and services move from concept to the customer. It includes the coordination of four elements called the 4 P’s of marketing:
- Identification, selection and development of a product,
- Determination of its price,
- Selection of a distribution channel to reach the customer’s place, and
- Development and implementation of a promotional strategy.”
No. 4 is the component that “work-smarter, not-harder” small businesses leverage to reach out to existing and potential customers. They take command of two powerful marketing tools: blogging and social media. Coincidentally, the costs are minimal. While it’s difficult to assess ROI, these tools, when used correctly, engage people, and an engaged audience is a captive audience.
As a personal example, I have learned a Ph.D.’s worth of information on natural and alternative health from Dr. Mercola (www.mercola.com) over the past 15 years from his blog posts. While I can buy his products slightly cheaper on Amazon, I make it a point to buy direct from his site because he has given me so much added value in return for my purchases. Some people still believe in loyalty, and you can tap into that.
If you don’t know much about blogging, forget what little you do know. When it first appeared on the scene, it was little more than a collection of “Dear Diaries.”
Today, blogging is a legitimate content platform for businesses, a perfect pull marketing technique. People come to your blog because they want to, not because you’re in their face with advertising.
Blogging is not an advertising tool, and those who attempt to use it strictly for advertising purposes fail fast. Blogging is an informational tool, part of an overall marketing strategy. People are bombarded with scripted propaganda, and they know it. They’re starved for bona fide information. Successful bloggers give them what they want in content-rich blog posts. So what type of information can you provide? The obvious answer is, “Give them what you know,” but you’ll find two examples below that illustrate the variety of what you know that you might not know you know.
Suppose you sell art and craft supplies. You can post an article on “Winter Wonderland Christmas Decorating on a Shoestring,” or you can post a step-by-step tutorial on “How to Make a [fill in the blank occasion] Wreath.” Might the customer need to purchase some of your supplies? Yes, but the object is not to sell them in the article. The article is to provide useful, practical information that readers can act on—immediately.
Another example concerns those who sell online security services. You can bet that people who are concerned about online security are also concerned with keeping their families safe offline—home safety tips, safe cars, neighborhood safety, boating safety, creating a safe pool environment, ad infinitum. They’re probably also concerned about insuring themselves to the max. In addition to information about online security, you can post pro and con articles along with tip articles about anything safety-related. Online safety is your narrow niche; safety is your broader niche.
If you can tap into the mindset of your customer base and target market (and you should be able to do this), you will understand what motivates them, what their wants and needs are. Start with information about what you provide, using plenty of examples and expand your niche a little. If you’re in the travel industry, you might include posts on new travel gadgets or compare smartphone-shielding devices—anything that interests travelers.
It doesn’t matter if you’re in the discount or the luxury market—there is plenty of material to engage and inform your audience. You can deviate from time to time with a humorous post or something entirely off-topic, as long as it doesn’t become your main offering.
Blogging is not limited to the Business-to-Consumer space. If your market is Business-to-Business (B2B), there’s plenty of opportunity for blogging in the B2B arena. Suppose you are a CPA that deals solely with businesses. How many tips can you provide businesses for saving money, not only at tax time but year-round? You can blog into the next decade with just what’s stored in your head.
12 Blogging Best Practices
What best practices do top bloggers employ?
- Headline – It all starts with a good headline, and sometimes the headline is the most time-consuming component to write. Headlines with powerful, emotive words get clicked. Two great headline resources: Jon Morrow’s 52 Headline Hacks is free with registration and offers a number of fill-in-the-blank templates to get you started. CoSchedule’s Headline Analyzer can help you tweak your headline for maximum effect.
- Introduction – The intro should grab the reader and let him or her know why they need to read the article. It’s your first impression beyond the headline, so write it with impact.
- Organization – Outlines (and mind maps) keep you focused and on track. Without a clear idea where you’re going, you can venture off into never-never land.
- The rule of threes – This is not written in stone, but it’s good to keep in mind. You want to cover three large topics in your post (unless it’s a tutorial or comparison). For example, in this article, I know that blogging and social media can be a hard sell for businesses who find their resources stretched, so my first point is that advertising has reached the point of diminishing returns, and I back that up. My second point is to break down blogging into bite-size points and point you in the right direction. My third point, which you’ll read in Part II, is to compare the most popular media and to give you tips on their use.
- Length – At one time, blog posts of 300–500 words were the most effective. Today, the most effective posts are at least 1,000 words and up to 2,500 or 3,000 words. Even with short attention spans, people have caught on that short blog posts are mostly filler. Unless you’re Seth Godin, give them meat.
- Conclusion – Tie up the loose ends in a pretty bow. Summarize what you’ve told them succinctly. This is just like giving a presentation. Tell them what you’re going to tell them, tell them, and then tell them what you just told them. That rule is written in stone for all communication.
- Style and tone – Conversational. Write in the second person—never in the third person. Conversational doesn’t mean you can throw grammar out with the bath water. You can end an occasional sentence with a preposition (horror of horrors) if forming a “proper” sentence makes the article sound as if a college professor is writing for a peer-review journal. Still, bad grammar and typos detract from your message and call your credibility into question. This is so obvious, but I challenge you to find one mainstream media blog that doesn’t make a number of subject/verb mismatches.
- Chunking – White space rules. Short paragraphs, and lots of bullets and numbered lists are the rule for online writing.
- Typography – Use a readable (read fat) sans serif font in a size that 40-year-olds can read. The days of 8 pt. Arial are gone for good. Would you rather read this or this?
- Media – Add visual interest with media. Use as many images as appropriate, but at least one. Include videos if they illustrate your point.
- Frequency – Frequency matters less than consistency. If your audience is used to daily posts, you can’t just cut back to once a week without letting them know and giving them a credible explanation. They’ll wonder if you’re cutting corners elsewhere—as in quality. Even if you start with once-a-month posts, be consistent and expand only when you can provide consistent, irresistible content.
- SEO – Search engine optimization. Tomes have been written on SEO, and once they’re written, they’re obsolete. The heart of using SEO to rank in the search engines is the use of keywords and links. Don’t overdo it on the keywords. Keyword stuffing is a turnoff to search engines and humans. Keyword phrases (aka long-tail keywords) are more effective than one-word keywords. Your keyword should appear in the title, in the first paragraph and a few times throughout the article. It should appear in ALT tags and image names, if possible. If you’re using WordPress (and it’s the best platform for blogs), Yoast is the gold standard for WordPress SEO optimization plugins. Link to authority sites where appropriate and internally to other articles on your site where possible. Forget writing to Google. It’s a lost cause, and they’re not your customer—unless they are. Write to your audience instead.
What if there’s no one on your team you can dedicate to writing your blog posts? You’ll have no trouble finding professional writers who write blog posts for clients. Consider outsourcing your blog posts.
Blogging and social media are not overnight cures. They take time. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and you won’t build trust in a day. Blogging is an on-going conversation, and your audience will grow as you engage, inform and inspire them.
In Part II we’ll look at social media and tie it into blogging, since the two go hand in hand. We’ll help you decide which platforms are best for your business, how to use them to promote your articles effectively and how to keep social media from dominating your time. Stay tuned for next week’s installment of “Have You Overlooked These Two Powerful Marketing Tools?”