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Blogging in Brief: Targeting, Teasers, and Trends

The last few weeks have turned up some interesting new finds in the world of blogging. I’ve covered some of the more innovative ones here—let us know what cool ideas you’ve spotted in the comments.

…and then she called me “Cupcake”

I’m not in the target audience for Molly Maher’s Stratejoy website, and it’s clear as soon as I get to her homepage, which greets visitors with the words, “This site is for you, Cupcake.”

Molly's header

This is a simple, but effective way to target an audience. That single word (in the context of the page design) lets users work out immediately if this is the place for them. It’s a brave move, and it works—Molly’s subscriber base is 4,000-strong.

How closely are you targeting your readers? Are you this forward in your headlines and calls to action? Perhaps Molly’s example will inspire you to rethink some of them.

Australian Blogosphere Report released

Australian blog advertising network Nuffnang has released its 2012 Blogosphere Report, which provides interesting reading for anyone who’s in, or targeting, this space.

The results show a number of interesting aspects:

  • The Australian blogosphere is 92% female.
  • 73% of bloggers said personal and hobby blogs were their favourites.
  • 70% of readers say sponsored posts are useful, so long as they’re transparent and impartial.
  • 95% of respondents have considered purchasing a brand or service as a result of reading about it on a blog.

Check out the report—available for free download—for more.

Ninja engagement tactics on the Ninja’s new blog

Our own Web Marketing Ninja, Shayne Tilley, has relaunched his website. inspired by the PB Event in October, he’s done a great job with a cost-effective theme and a little basic coding—check it out at let us know what you think.

One aspect I think is particularly interesting is the large quote he’s placed just above the footer, along with a Read More CTA.

Quote

That’s a pretty clickable page element—it really inspires my curiosity. And it takes you direct to his blog. Do you provide alternative ways to entice readers through to your blog, other than simply saying “read my blog”? If not, maybe you could try this idea for yourself.

Content marketing coverage

If you’re looking for new content marketing ideas, this epic post on the value of long-form content in your content marketing efforts is one for you.

In the piece, Demian Farnworth uses The New Yorker as a benchmark for content marketing excellence. If you’re a solo blogger, keep in mind that The New Yorker probably ha a few more resources than you do to put into content marketing! That said, the post is information-packed and gives us plenty of ideas to use in our own content marketing efforts.

In the same vein, I was recently approached by Flippa for a post on using content marketing to add value to your blog. Have a look—I’d love to know what you think!

Big-block headers on blogs

A design trend that’s definitely becoming more commonplace is the big-block header, like the ones on the Fast Company subsites. Interestingly, Fast Company doesn’t use this style on its flagship blog—just on those sites that specifically target design-conscious users.

But this trend is becoming more mainstream. Some pro bloggers using it include Jaime Tardy at Eventual Millionaire … but there don’t seem to be many others.

Eventual millionaire

What do you think of this as a design trend for blogs? Have you seen others using it? Let us know what you think in the comments.

Blog Design for ROI, Rule 1: Prioritize the Opt-in Form

This guest post is by Gab Goldenberg, author of The Advanced SEO Book.

Are you writing phenomenal posts only to have your poor design fail you? Here’s how to fix that, with rules that will guide you whether you create a custom theme or just pick a theme and adapt it.

Today’s post is the first in a series on blog design for ROI.

Lots of articles give blog design rules or guidelines, but no one I’ve seen explains how these rules achieve your goals.

So let’s look at a business blogger’s possible ROI goals and how the design can help one achieve those goals:

  1. earning ad revenue
  2. earning revenue from selling your own products and services
  3. growing your email list, RSS + Facebook, or Twitter list (listed in decreasing order of value)
  4. building a community or audience—especially as reflected by comments, forum activity, etc.
  5. developing connections and networking.

Every blogger’s first goal should be developing repeat traffic from a loyal audience. Everything else—sales, links, social sharing, networking opportunities—is attainable from this.

In practical terms, the most direct way to achieve this is to blog regularly and to build an email list. Blog design can’t motivate you to write regularly, but it can maximize the number of people who subscribe to your newsletter.

Blog design for ROI rule #1: Prioritize the opt-in form above all

Q: How does your blog design help you build your list?

A: It makes the newsletter subscription call to action the most prominent element on any page, be it the homepage, an individual post page etc.

Sandra Niehaus of Closed-Loop-Marketing wrote an excellent guide to the factors of visual prominence (or “pop”), and I encourage you to read it.

Notably, Sandra highlights the following factors, which are within reach for every blogger to use.

  • location on the page
  • whitespace around an element
  • colour (saturation, hue and contrast).

Have a look at Derek Halpern’s Social Triggers. The design is brilliant with regards to building an email list. Here’s what an individual post page looks like:

Derek Halpern Home

Notice how besides the logo, the next most noticeable things are the email optin area and Derek’s face, followed by the title? Derek is making excellent use of both location, whitespace and color to draw attention to his opt-in box.

Even top marketers like Derek can improve, though.

If you look at the above screenshot, the email opt-in stands out—but it’s trying to shout over the logo and the further branding in the image box embedded in the post.

It’s easy to understand that Derek wants to brand himself and his blog as an expert source, but the large logo and face staring out are very distracting. Derek would likely increase his conversion rate by making the logo smaller and removing his face from the promotional box within his post.

What about branding? Branding is the result of relationships and getting your message out—two things which email does significantly better than a one-time view of a large logo and face.

So what lessons can we draw from Derek, on prioritizing our opt-in form in the blog design?

1. The ideal location to place your optin box is after the logo, before the content

This is the most prominent position you can place anything on the page, and since this is the call to action we care about, it fits here best. This is also why Google suggests placing AdSense ads there.

Failing this, you should still get it above the fold, and you can see that Derek did so at the very top of his sidebar. (Personally I’d love to see it integrated in the post’s upper right corner where his Insider box is, but that’s not always possible.)

2. Give the box plenty of breathing room

Note how it’s not squished between anything else? There’s also whitespace on the right and left margins, so this stands out even more.

3. Give it some colourThis way, it can contrast with the remainder of the page.

4. Make the rest of the page’s above-the-fold elements less prominent

Keep your logo small: look at Amazon’s for a good example of smart use of space. Also, avoid using a headshot above the fold, unless it’s integrated into your opt-in box.

Even this second point is debatable, as making the box too loud can make it physically hard for people to draw their eyes away from the opt-in to read your content. Or you could use a grayscale headshot in association with the author credits, or else resize the face image to be quite small.

The point is to be warily careful in using faces because they’re such a visually dominant element.

5. The spot before your comments is also a big draw visually, so put another opt-in form here

I attribute this prominence to people skipping down to the conclusion of a post to learn quickly what matters, as well as to being curious what others said and/or to see replies to their own comments.

Again, Derek does a good job with his placement, whitespace, and color contrast.

Derek's opt-in

So that was rule number 1: give the top spot in your visual hierarchy to your email list’s opt-in form.

I’d love if you could comment with other examples of bloggers whose designs do a very good job of persuading people to join their lists.

At this time over the next few weeks, I’ll share the other steps involved in designing your blog for ROI. To follow along, add ProbBlogger’s RSS feed to your reader!

Gab Goldenberg wrote The Advanced SEO Book – and you can get a free chapter here. Gab and Internet Marketing Ninjas, the folks behind the Blog Design for ROI series here on Problogger, are offering to mail you a free print copy of the Blog Design for ROI guide as a small book. Get your free copy from seoroi.com/blog-design-for-roi/ .

One Essential Characteristic of a Pro Blogger [Not Your Everyday Blog Writing Advice]

Each week, my Content manager Georgina turns away around 20 or so posts for publication at ProBlogger. She tells me that maybe 5-10% of those are of a publishable standard, but they just don’t fit our audience or purpose. The rest aren’t pro-level pieces.

Learning

Image courtesy stock.xchng user Valsilvae

Forget for a moment that these are guest posts—which are supposed to be bloggers’ best content.

Instead, I want to think about what that means for the average blogger, toiling away on their blog day in, day out, trying to reach and captivate their audience.

What is “pro blogging”?

Pro blogging isn’t just about making money through a blog. You don’t need to write a word to do that. But I think most of us would expect pro bloggers to be able to write reasonably well.

Why?

Because Pro bloggers need to be consummate communicators. Whether they hire others to write for their blogs, or use video, audio, or images rather than text, clear expression is a hallmark of any pro blogger.

Clarity doesn’t just mean error-free writing. It means:

  • content that touches readers, showing you empathize with them
  • relevant, helpful content
  • consistent information, in terms of frequency, tone, etc.
  • content that delivers what it promises, and has integrity.

A blogger might use writing for a range of purposes, too:

  • to attract readers, and keep them coming back
  • to promote their blog or sell something
  • to approach potential collaboraters
  • to build relationships and networks
  • to make money directly (e.g. through an information product).

There’s plenty of great quality advice about writing and content marketing online. Writing tips abound.

This week, we want to present a few different takes on writing for your blog. Over the next four days we’ll publish some posts that focus on some nitty-gritty aspects of writing—ideas that go a bit deeper than usual.

Writing to make money

Our first post will look at writing product reviews that deliver real value. Among other things, the post explores the challenges bloggers face in exposing the negative aspects of a product they’re reviewing and may want to encourage readers to buy (if they’re an affiliate for it).

Handling that tension is exactly the kind of thing that pro bloggers work to master. This post will show how showing the full picture supports authority, and can actually encourage more sales than a purely glowing review.

Writing to improve

One great thing about blogging is that everything we do is practice—each post we publish should be an improvement on the last one.

Looking to leaders for advice on writing is an excellent way to develop your skills. Our second post will reveal the thoughts of some of the world’s greatest writers, and provide starting points to help you apply that advice in your own posts.

Writing to build your profile

When bloggers think about content marketing, we often ponder the question of content reuse. If you do it right, it can be an efficient way to get the most out of the time you spend writing—it can boost your visibility, your publishing schedule, and your available time.

Our third post this week explains how freelance writers can best reuse their freelance content on their own blogs. This isn’t a straightforward topic, and this post highlights the potential advantages and pitfalls so that if you’re a freelancer, you know where to start looking into content reuse.

Writing to experiment

For many bloggers, after high-school or college essays, and workplace emails, blogging is the first focused writing they’ve done.

We’ve all heard the advice that if you want to be a great writer, you need to be a big reader. But the final post in our series shows that to be a better blog writer, you need to be a better writer, period. It prompts us to look beyond blog posts for opportunities to write, and topics to write on. It shows that through experimentation, we can learn skills out of context that we can bring back and apply to our blogs.

Are you up to the challenge?

The advice we’ll cover this week goes beyond the everyday. It assumes you’re already serious about being good writer, and are facing the challenges of becoming a great writer. There’s no hype in these posts, and no write-your-way-to-a-million-dollar-income-in-five-minutes advice. They’re posts that aim to provide a different perspective on post writing.

Where are you at as a writer? Are you ready to challenge yourself to become better? Or do you think you’ve reached your limits, either in terms of potential, or interest in writing? Share your perspective with us in the comments.

5 Ways to Use Images to Make Your Posts Irresistible

This week on #blogchat on Twitter, we discussed the use of images in blog posts, and I thought that some of the advice we covered there might be useful for you too. So here are my top tips for using images in your blog posts.

1. Use an image per post

At Digital Photography School, I include an image at the top of every post.

This provides a visual point of interest that draws people to read the post. Whilst the audience is particularly visually oriented, I think this is true across the board. The web is filled with rich media, and great images now. So the more you can do to make text-based posts visually appealing, the better.

In fact, some of our most shared posts on dPS are composed almost entirely of images, with little to no text at all.  Take a look at the stats on your blog for posts with images, and compare them with posts that don’t have images. You might find that the former do better with readers. They’ll almost certainly be more likely to be shared.

Eye

Image courtesy stock.xchng user L-O-L-A


2. Use images to draw the eye

Using an image at the post’s top is a default for dPS, but we also often images later in posts, too. In this way, they act almost like sub-headings to draw people down the page, and keep them engaged throughout the post.

Not only do those later images catch attention, they provide visual respite for the visitor who is diligently reading through the whole post, from start to finish. So these images serve all kinds of readers—not just scanners.

I think the trick with this is to take care with the images you use. If the reader scans from the top image to a subsequent one, you may—or may not— want that subsequent image to jar for them. It’s important to choose those images carefully, so that they tell the story you want them to.

3. Use images for RSS

Images in your posts also grab the attention of users who are subscribed to your RSS feed. In that case, they can mean the difference between your post being read or ignored.

If you think images are eye-catching on your blog—which is already heavily designed and strongly visual, just imagine what they can do to get attention in a less designed, more texty environment.

4. Trust your instincts

I choose images for blog posts based on the feeling that the image gives me more than anything else. And I’ve really found this to work well.

Often here on ProBlogger, guest posters will send us generic clipart-style images to accompany their content, and we avoid publishing these.

The best images are the ones that evoke a feeling in you and your readers. Clip art probably won’t do that! What does are images that contain people. We’re human, and biology has preprogrammed us to look into each others’ eyes.

So I find that using images with people who are looking at the camera tend to be the most engaging.

5. Take your time

Images are important—and not just to those embracing Pinterest as a medium for growing their readership!

A good image is sometimes as important (if not more important) than a good title for a blog post. On dPS, sometimes I’ll take longer choosing the image for a post than writing the post itself.

You may not spend that much time on your image selection, but if you’re not paying much attention to it, I encourage you to build some time into your posting schedule over the next few weeks to source really strong, eye-catching, and engaging images. You never know how your readers will respond, but you might see longer visits, and more sharing of your content if you do.

Are you already using images on your blog? What types work best for you? Share your advice in the comments.

Curate a Best-Of Post that Gets Read, Used, and Shared

One of the posts I’m featuring in the carousel on Digital Photography School at the moment is the Best of dPS.

dPS best ofIf you haven’t compiled a best-of list of your most-loved posts yet, you should.

  • It’s very sharable: Take your best posts, make them into one post, and you can be sure that your readers—current and new—will love it, and love to share it with others.
  • It supports your authority: Posts like this act as a scannable guide to your expertise and experience within the niche.
  • It provides enormous value: A best-of really is a valuable piece of content for readers. That almost goes without saying!
  • It helps you get attention to great, evergreen content: If your best works are languishing in your archives, a best-of can get them the fresh attention they deserve.
  • It helps readers access content they’ve missed: It’s inevitable that readers will miss some of your posts. A best-of brings your best, most helpful work to their attention in a single, easily bookmarked location.

Now, it might seem like putting to post together is as simple as looking through your visitor stats and working out which posts have gained the most traffic. But there’s more to it than that. Here are my tips for curating a really strong best-of post.

1. Weigh the stats

The way most of us work out which are our best posts is to look at our stats. But what does that actually mean?

I think it’s a good idea to look at social shares and comment counts as well as pageviews. Also, try to remember what type of social media buzz the posts generated when they were first published—the kinds of things people were saying, and why. Finally, look at how long the traffic to the post lasted, as a gauge of how much it drew readers back again over time.

Different posts have different statistical profiles, and not all traffic is created equal. Ideally, your best-of post will contain articles that attracted traffic that converted (for example, became subscribers or social media followers for your blog).

2. Consider your blog’s evolution

The dPS post covered posts that had been published in the space of six months. While these were evergreen posts, you might want to include more topical posts in your best-of. That’s fine—so long as these posts still reflect where your blog is at.

Industries change, and so do bloggers. Something you wrote six months ago—and which did really well at the time—might seem a bit dated or stale to you now. Maybe your opinions have changed, or perhaps it’s your writing style. If you’re not still excited by a post, don’t include it in your best-of list. You want this to be a post you can stand behind whole-heartedly.

3. Review hot topics in your niche

When you’re choosing between good posts that all look they might make the cut, one way to narrow down the options is to look at what’s happening in your niche at the time. Does one post suit the current niche “climate” right now? Does it play into a concern, dialog, or sense of anticipation, and might it draw more readers for that reason?

Including a post or two from your archives that tap into current trends in your niche can really boost the discussion around your best-of, and encourage sharing.

4. Consider reopening closed comments

If you close comments on posts after a set period, you might consider reopening them on the posts you’ve included in your best-of when the post goes live. Allowing new visitors to add to the discussion on these evergreen posts can bring new life—and present-day insight—to these older posts.

Then, when other readers come across the posts in future, they’ll find the discussions more relevant to them.

5. Make sure the linked posts are perfect

Of course, you’ll make sure that all the posts that appear in your best-of list are perfect. Even if you’re the kind of blogger who doesn’t let anything make it through to the blog that’s not perfect, go back over those old posts.

This will give you a chance to reacquaint yourself with the material, so that you can talk about it with readers who ask questions via email or social media. But I think you might also pick up on one or two things that you want to change in each post. It might be something as simple as a turn of phrase, or correcting a link that’s become broken. But these small tweaks will help you get the absolute most out of your best-of post.

Do have a best-of on your blog? Tell us how you put it together—and what benefits it’s brought you.

This Week, Try Something New

In the last few weeks I’ve had the privilege to meet a lot of bloggers at various on and offline events.

These have been great experiences that have really opened my eyes to what others are doing on their blogs, and with their audiences. It’s been a great time for learning.

Trying something new

Image courtesy stock.xchng user milan6

But one thing I know I can suffer from, and I suspect all of us fall prey to at some point, is complacency. How often do we see a tweeted link and tell ourselves “Yep, I know what that’ll be about”? Or read a post title and mentally let part of ourselves drift off into a daydream? Or see a product and think, “That won’t help me!”?

Whilst it’s true that not everything that’s available online will help us, these kinds of mental blocks can really prevent us from learning new things. In fact, the things don’t have to be that new—they just have to be different from what we’re accustomed to.

For example, YouTube. Hands up if you use it! If you don’t, you’re probably one of thousands of bloggers who tells themselves that video isn’t for them. They’re too shy; they don’t look good on camera; it’s too much hassle; their audience won’t use it.

Well, that’s all fine, as far as it goes. But thoughts like this often do more to hinder, rather than help, a blog. The reasons I just mentioned are common reasons bloggers give for not trying new things, yet none of them has anything to do with what’s good for a blog, or a blog’s users.

Stepping out

YouTube is one example, but there are all kinds of ways in which we limit ourselves and our blogs. Perhaps you hate list posts, so you never write them. Perhaps you don’t accept guest posts, thinking you’ll lose your readers’ attention. Perhaps you’re scared to monetize your blog, because you think you’ll put people off.

My message today is: give it a try.

You don’t have to go the whole hog, and overcommit yourself to something you might want to change or remove later. But blogging is about experimentation, stepping out of your comfort zone, and giving it a go.

It takes energy to do this. And determination. But I’ve found it’s the only way to see what works to grow your blog, and expand your audience. It also takes some humility—the power to admit that you don’t know what will or won’t work every time, and a willingness to try things out before you make a judgement. We might not like to think so, but it’s true that we bloggers don’t always know best!

It’s too easy to sit back and say, “That’s not for me (or my blog).” This week, I’m inviting you to pick one thing you’ve never done on your blog before, and give it a try.

Pick one new thing each week

This isn’t my idea. I once had a friend who decided she was going to do something she’d never done before every week for a year. It could be to try a new food, visit a new place, embark on a new experience—anything was fine, as long as it was new.

I think this could be a valuable approach for bloggers who want to improve, expand, and grow. Pick a new thing every week, and give it a go. Obviously, you’ll want to choose something that suits your blog, niche, and audience. But within that realm, I usually find a lot of scope to try new things.

To get your started, here are a few ideas:

  • try a new writing style or technique
  • try following all the advice in a single post right through to the end
  • try getting in touch with a peer in your niche who you’ve never met before
  • try tweaking some aspect of your blog design or layout, and tracking the results
  • try a new approach to finding readers—something you’ve always dismissed in the past
  • try a new type of promotion to reach more readers.

These are just a few ideas. We’ll be covering most of them in the coming week here on ProBlogger, so if you need inspiration or direction, you’ve got it!

Hopefully, that list piqued your interest. You can probably think of plenty of other things you’ve never tried on your blog, but would like to. Grab a pen (or open a new document) and make a list of those things. They—or a step toward each of them—could also become part of your New Things list.

Why bother?

What I’ve suggested here does take work. But the alternative is to keep doing what you’re doing, day in, day out. Where’s the passion in that? To grow, and help our blogs reach their full potential, we all need need to break through a few barriers, open ourselves up to new ideas, and put in some hard yards.

But of course, on the plus side, experimentation is fun. Trying new ideas, and having at least some of them succeed in some way—however small—is a huge buzz. Most of the stories we publish here on ProBlogger aren’t about bloggers who know what they’re doing all the time. These posts are the result of experimentation—in fact, many of them are experiments themselves.

What are you experimenting with? We’d love to hear about your plans to try new things in the comments below.

Weekend Project: Take a Blogging Retreat

As bloggers, we all face challenges. They might be as big as expanding our blog beyond a five-figure income. Or they might be ongoing, like the challenges of finding post ideas, or clearly defining our niches.

Reflecting

Image courtesy stock.xchng user SSPIVAK

And we look for answers wherever we can: on our favorite blogs, in ebooks and whitepapers, at meetups, on social media, in our networks and with our contacts.

But all too rarely do we look inside ourselves for those answers.

You already have what you need to succeed

It sounds corny, but it’s true: you have what you need to succeed already. That doesn’t mean none of us ever need to learn anything, or buy any software, or do any research!

What it means is that your own drives, motivations, interests, and capabilities are what will lead you to success.

The problem is that online, things move so fast. We can spend so much energy simply trying to keep up that we don’t make time to look inside ourselves and work out what suits us—what we want as bloggers, and what we can give to those goals.

That’s what this weekend project is all about.

Take a blogging retreat

This weekend, I’m inviting you to take a blogging retreat. Today and tomorrow, we’ll tackle some of the most common blogging problems with a healthy dose of good old-fashioned introspection.

We’ll help you:

These posts will put you back in touch with yourself, and help you connect better with your blog, so it, in turn, can connect better with readers.

It should help you reconnect with your desires and goals as a blogger, and refresh your outlook on what you’re doing and where your blog’s headed.

I know how hard it can be to make time to do this kind of thing on a daily basis, so I hope you’ll join us this weekend to improve your blog in some unexpected ways, through our blogging retreat! Watch out for our first post later today.

Blogging in Brief: Engagement Tools, App Auctions, and Brutal Realism

This week has turned up some really interesting ideas for blog reader engagement using technology as well as creative content techniques…

Mini reader surveys … and more

On Eugen Oprea’s blog, we saw this handy little query form:

Query form

It’s made with LeadConverter, which you can use on a free subscription if you want to give it a try on your blog.

Eugen’s using it to survey readers about their interests, but the tool can actually be used for a range of purposes, including boosting conversions.

Taking a sponsored post one step further

The old-timey vibe on The Art of Manliness stretches even to their images. This post about equipping yourself for a whisky tasting is topped by a specially developed graphic that presents each contemporary item in an old visual style.

That’s a pretty great value-add for the sponsor—and really eye-catching for readers too. The Art of Manliness have a commissioned illustrator on the blog. What a great way to help build your brand.

Realism counts

Did you see Greg McFarlane’s recent post here on naming blog products? This is one example of a continuing trend I’m noticing around blog content, and that’s realism.

I’ve noticed realism taking over on quite a few blogs a media sites. It may be because we’re all well-trained to be skeptical of over-promising headlines these days. It may also be because brutal realism cuts through the chatter.

Here are a few examples of the kind of thing I’m talking about:

Are you using realism on your blog? If not, perhaps it’s time!

Showing off your best content

I spotted this great idea from Heather Solos this week: an attention-grabbing way to get readers to click through to your pillar content.

Here’s a screenshot from Heather’s home page:

The Home Ec 101 homepage

The Home Ec 101 homepage

I took this screencapture on a Thursday, and I have the feeling the chores list changes to reflect the day of the week. But in any case, who can resist clicking on that sticky note? It looks so real—like it’s been stuck to my fridge as a friendly reminder!

I thought the sticky would take me to a download, but it doesn’t—the content is a blog post, and it’s free, and you don’t need to sign up to get all the content. This is a great way to encourage users who hit your homepage to get right into your content, based on their needs. As a creative approach, it’s also perfectly in line with the purpose of Heather’s blog, and the needs of her readers. What a great idea.

Get appy

We’ve talked a bit about developing an app as a product for your blog. There’s an alternative, though: buy one.

Apptopia is a fairly new marketplace where developers sell their apps. While some of the prices are mind-boggling, some aren’t. Could this be a good way for you to add to your blog’s offering and help your readers? Maybe. As the Web Marketing Ninja hinted in this article, you’ll need to consider the maintenance and future development needs of the app before you buy (or develop) one.

What’s caught your eye in the blogosphere this week? Share any innovative ideas you’ve spotted with us in the comments.

12 Lessons from 4 Inspiring Local Business Blogs

Earlier this week I explained why every business needs a blog. Today I want to show you just how much potential there is for businesses to connect with their customers through a blog.

Spices

Image courtesy stock.xchng user zd

The blogs I’ve chosen here are all for small businesses I know of. I’ve tried to look at local businesses, so most of them are Melbourne-based, though the lessons they teach should be useful for any business thinking of starting a blog.

The bookstore

Readings, a small bookstore chain, has a very frequently updated blog that supports its online store. This makes sense, since new books are always being released, and there’s always something to say about them.

The blog is an important element of this site. Go to the site’s homepage, and it’s all about shopping. But shoppers can buy books online anywhere. As we know all too well here in Australia, price competition on books is a major factor in deciding where to purchase. So Readings augments that offering with personality. As a small book store, they focus on range and catering to the tastes of their specific clientele. Quality reviews are important, as are in-store events and promotions. The blog is an excellent way to support those goals.

Lessons

  1. If your industry is highly competitive, a blog can help communicate your competitive edge to a highly receptive audience.
  2. Take in different aspects of your industry—this interview with a bookseller is a nice way to go “behind the scenes.” It show off the passion that exists in the industry, and inspires a passion in readers, too.
  3. Use posts to subtly inspire readers to purchase. These posts are followed by links to the books by the authors discussed in the posts themselves—a great, logical, unobtrusive tie-in that would certainly boost sales.

The bakery

A cupcake bakery with two outlets, the Cupcake Central blog is interesting in that it’s so light on text.

If you’re not a writer, you could take a leaf or two from this blog. Images play the main role, but as you can see, they also really support the strong branding of the business. This is probably true with a lot of product-related businesses whose physical output is the strongest evidence of their brand.

The blog’s only updated monthly, to focus on recipes, promoting cupcake workshops, and giving attention to seasonal events like Father’s Day. Interestingly, video is also used to supplement the blog content. The posts may be few and far between, but they’re rich with visual interest.

Lessons

  1. Rather than trying to “come up with” content, let seasonal variations and your industry itself guide your posting schedule.
  2. Not a writer? Try video, imagery, or even a podcast.
  3. Let your blog’s design support your branding. Cupcake Central’s logo is echoed in the blog’s post and header design, as well as all the other pages on the site.

The enthusiasts

Probably the least “bloggy” of the blogs we’ll look at in this list is Motorcyclerides, a site that’s been developed specifically to connect enthusiasts—in this case, motorcycle enthusiasts.

It’s not a business blog as such, in that the blog doesn’t support an individual business. But it does support an “industry” of motorbike riders and bike-related businesses. And it’s a really interesting example that many business blogs could learn from.

The blog itself is on the site’s homepage: it’s the list of maps below the header. Each map links to the details of a ride that a motorcyclist can do on their own, or with friends. And each ride (or blog post) is contributed by a rider, rather than made up by the business owners. They’re great rides that actual riders recommend.

This makes the blogging task more about editing and approving content than starting it from scratch‚ and looking at the Suggest a ride form, I wouldn’t expect the site’s owners would need to do too much work to get the content onto the site. Riders can also contribute events to the site.

Lessons

  1. Crowdsource your content to reduce the blogging burden and expand the reach and relevance of your blog.
  2. Find good ways to link provided content that provide the greatest value to users. At the end of each ride listing on this blog, we see links to related businesses, events, and other rides nearby. That’s pretty useful to riders!
  3. Make your blog into a resource for your customers, and they’ll be unable to resist coming back again and again. A great way to build authority in your industry.

The design studio

A small screen printing business in Melbourne, Ink & Spindle runs this blog as part of a larger website.

The site targets “customers”, which in this case means members of the public as well as current and potential stockists of the fabrics that Ink & Spindle make. The blog itself is updated between two and ten times a month, and keeps customers informed of sales and events like open studios. It shows how different designers, customers, and other clients use the studio’s fabrics—which inspires other readers and undoubtedly sparks purchases through the site’s web store.

The blog really helps the studio’s owners promote their brand values: quality, aesthetics, social and environmental awareness, and community involvement. The great thing about this blog is the way it helps the business connect with the people who buy and use its products at a local level.

Lessons

  1. You can easily add a free blog to your existing website, and start blogging for your business in minutes.
  2. If your business’s product or service is visually appealing, use imagery wherever you can.
  3. Bring your customers into the picture with case studies, to inspire others, and reflect your customer focus.

Get inspired about your business blog

As you can see, small businesses in a range of industries and areas are using blogging to promote themselves online. These examples show that you don’t need to be a technical whiz to make this work. You don’t even need a massive online presence.

The main thing you need is a clear understanding of the ways your business meets the needs of customers or clients, and what it means to them. Using that as a foundation upon which to build, you’ll be able to create a strong, unique web presence that builds loyalty and keeps your customers coming back for more.

Are you starting a business blog? Tell us about the challenges you’re facing in the comments.