Blogging is the most cost-effective marketing strategy for small business owners.
Just a few years ago, blogging was considered a hobby. It was a flourishing hobby, certainly, which saw a small percentage of people making enough money to quit their full-time jobs. Few people predicted, however, that blogging would become a central aspect of small business marketing strategy.
A change in the way that Google identifies social signals and highlights fresh content offered the promise of ranking high in search engine results for small companies who would otherwise be unable to compete for short-tail search terms. In other words, you can now get views from potential customers who you previously would’ve never been able to target without spending absurd amounts of money on traditional advertising.
But how do you write a good blog post? Writing a blog post that is well-researched, useful to your customers, and pleasant to read is an easy task if you have the right process. I’ll show you what we do here at Jimdo to produce two high-quality blog posts every week.
The term “blog” was coined in 1997. In the 17 years since then, millions of people have taken up blogging as a hobby or profession. 77% of all internet users read blogs, and 23% of all time spent on the internet is spent reading blog posts. – Social Media Today
Writing follows reading
You won’t find many writers who don’t like to read. Reading others’ work is the most consistent source of inspiration for one’s own writing. At Jimdo, we love to read blog posts by Moz, Buffer, and HubSpot. Your own writing may be in a different field and you may look to other sources for inspiration—that’s fine, but you should make sure that you are reading. Feedly and Twitter are the best tools for keeping track of the latest blog posts, though you have to be careful not to spend all of your time reading. I often succumb to perusing the latest Apple news from John Gruber.
While reading, you’ll often find that your opinion differs slightly from the author’s, or perhaps that an experience of yours contradicts the argument she is presenting. Maybe you agree with the author and can add a personal anecdote as evidence. You’ve now got the inkling of inspiration necessary to write a great blog post.
A few weeks ago, that moment of inspiration came to me while reading HubSpot’s post “8 Brilliant Landing Pages Examples.” I realized that I had noticed a few great landing pages that no one was writing about, and I wanted to let our readership know why they were so successful. Out of that little moment came one of my most popular posts to date: “How to Create Effective Landing Pages.”
How did I get from that initial idea to a fully-fledged blog post? Planning, writing, and editing.
For many people, an outline is a monstrous mess of Roman numerals and columns that plagued them in primary school.
Before writing a great blog post, you do need an outline, but it isn’t as hard to produce as you think. An outline need not include every point you’re going to make (in that case it’d be a blog post). Instead, you should write down the aspects of your post that are absolutely indispensable. If your blog post were a recipe for cookies, your outline would contain flour, milk, eggs, sugar, salt, butter, and baking soda. You may later add other ingredients, but each of the ones I listed is necessary.
This blog post is about how to write a great blog post, so it needs to talk about planning, writing, and editing. Later I chose to add a short introduction about the history of blogging and a small section on promotion, but neither were included in my original outline:
- Blog posts are a cost-effective strategy for small business marketing, not just a hobby
- You need an outline, but it doesn’t have to be scary
- Get the main points and move on
I don’t want to share the rest of the outline because that would spoil the post! Read on to learn about writing a first draft.
Your first draft will not be perfect. If you need to hang this on a sign above your writing space, please do. I need to constantly remind myself that no one will see my first draft, and it’s okay if it’s unstructured, grammatically incorrect, or completely incomprehensible. Once I get my words on the page, I can probably turn them into a good blog post. If I don’t put any words on the page, I can guarantee that a great blog post isn’t going to be the result.
There is lots of advice for composing first drafts on the internet, most of which amounts to: Be more productive. Setting timers, reducing distractions, committing yourself to the process—all of these things will help you, but none of them are as helpful as changing your mindset and realizing that writing isn’t a chore.
A first draft is fun.
It’s really fun. Like going on a road trip with only a rough itinerary, a first draft offers a freedom of exploration that is incredibly enjoyable. You can find new ideas and stories along the way and weave them into your original concept. Since you have an outline, you don’t have to be paralyzed by limitless possibility—just find a way to connect the dots of your outline using your knowledge, experience, and unique voice.
A few other helpful tips while writing first drafts:
- Don’t change tabs or windows to do research while writing. Instead, write a note like “link needed” or “check spelling.”
- Don’t spend too much time editing existing sentences. Keep moving forward toward the end of the outline.
- A good rule of thumb is to spend 10 minutes for 300 words. If you’re going slower than that, your outline may be insufficient. If you’re going faster, you may make the editing process more difficult for yourself.
The best writers depend on great editors. An editor sees the points a writer is trying to make and guides her toward clearer descriptions and better organization. One of America’s greatest short story writers, Raymond Carver, said that any reputation he had was owed to his editor, Gordon Lish.
“If I have any standing or reputation or credibility in the world, I owe it to you.'” — Raymond Carver, speaking about his editor Gordon Lish
If you’re a small business owner, you may be both the writer and editor of your blog post, which isn’t a problem at all. When you sit down with your draft, all you need to do is imagine yourself in the position of the reader who is coming across your post for the first time. The reader likely has no background knowledge and is looking for information about a specific topic. With that in mind, I recommend two stages of editing: substantive changes and grammatical changes.
This is the stage when you ask yourself lots of questions: Why did I arrange the sections like this? Do these examples illustrate my argument? Am I forgetting to include something that I know but the reader may not?
Just a few days ago, my colleague Brent wrote an excellent post about managing his email inbox. When he sent me the first draft, I noticed that he talked about Gmail for a long time before sharing any of his more general tips. In the end, we decided that people would be more convinced to try Gmail if he first convinced them that his email management system was helpful. It was a small structural change, but one which ultimately made the blog post way more appealing to our audience.
Wait until you’re satisfied with the flow of your post before making meticulous changes to the grammar. When you’re ready to do that, however, keep the following in mind:
- Reading aloud is the best way to catch awkward phrases, misplaced punctuation, and run-on sentences.
- Blog posts are generally more informal, but precision is still important. Remove words or long phrases that aren’t necessary (e.g. “The biggest, most important reason that this is super important to me and that I think so very very often about this is…”).
- Great tools like Hemingway App and Grammar.ly are incredibly powerful if you aren’t extremely confident in your writing skills.
Once you’ve ironed out the kinks and produced an immaculate, informative blog post, you’re ready to hit publish.
Even though it’s published, however, you aren’t quite done.
As a small business owner, your blog is primarily a marketing channel. After you start publishing posts, you’ll need to focus on promotion.
In the beginning, it’s easiest to promote your posts to your existing customer base. Focus on building up a newsletter list (MailChimp is a great tool) and letting your customers know when you’ve written something new. If you have the resources, concentrate on building up a presence on Twitter and creating a great Facebook page for your business. Whenever promoting to your existing customers, make sure that your updates are regular but not spammy, and always provide information that is relevant to their needs.
Later on, you’ll want to focus more on reaching beyond your existing following. A common first step is to place advertisements on Facebook, Twitter, or Google. Services like Outbrain can syndicate your content on well-respected websites, providing you with page views from visitors who may have never otherwise visited your blog. Finally, you should try building relationships with other people in your field who can spread the word about your content.
That’s the process we use at Jimdo to produce good blog posts: read, plan, write, edit, and promote. At any given time, we’re working through this process with a handful of blog posts from writers with varying levels of experience. In the end, we’re extremely proud of the work that we put out, and we hope that it’s helping you achieve your goals online. If you find one of our articles helpful, please share it with a friend—we’re really grateful when people who have never heard of Jimdo before can benefit from our experience.