Blogs were once thought of as the preserve of travel enthusiasts, fashionistas and aspiring arts critics. They gave individuals the chances to vent their frustrations and share their experiences with the world. Yet, whilst blogs of this nature are still commonplace, it is not just budding journalists and the opinionated souls among us that are utilising them nowadays. Businesses of all sizes have started to latch onto the potential offered by the humble blog and are taking full advantage of it.
“Most savvy businesses have seen how personal blogs have evolved and cover so many diverse sectors now, so it is understandable that they want to get their foot in the door,” says Sarah Moore, blogging engagement manager at Strategy Internet Marketing, an online consultancy. “I think they have seen through individual blogs how valuable and how engaging that kind of content can be.”
Nevertheless, this is by no means to suggest that a blog is essential for each and every enterprise. “There are some businesses where the audience doesn’t exist online,” explains Daniel Nolan, managing director of SEO and digital marketing agency theEword. “Procurement and higher level property deals aren’t struck by people googling or reading blogs. They are done in boardrooms. But there are a vast number of businesses where there is an online audience, and for those businesses I think a blog is something of a necessity.”
Indeed, any enterprise with its finger on the pulse will know that content has become Google’s new best friend. As a result, there is much to be gained from posting a regular stream of relevant business musings. “Having a blog that is updated regularly with relevant content is a really important part of optimising your website,” comments Heather Baker, managing director of digital agency TopLine Communications. “It tells Google that your website is active and fresh.”
Moreover though, with social media compelling firms to be increasingly open and transparent, having a blog can enhance a business’s reputation in the eyes of both consumers and Google alike. “Google launched an update recently called Google Hummingbird which is designed to reward businesses that engage in a conversation with their audiences,” comments Nolan. “If a business uses its website as a mode of address to reach its audience, Google likes that and will increasingly favour that kind of stuff. The blog is just a great conduit for that relationship.”
Naturally, there are more than a few instances of company blogs that have failed to deliver the expected rewards. For the most part, however, this is due to a misguided perception that merely having a blog will make all the difference. “If it’s going to be an afterthought or a case of jumping on the blogging bandwagon, then you may as well not bother,” adds Baker. “If you want people to read your blog, it has to do something new and it has to do it in a way that is interesting or entertaining to people.” As Moore succinctly puts it, “it shouldn’t just be a case of having a blog to tick a box.”
Thus, to get the maximum return from a blog, a business must be willing to make a fairly sizeable commitment of both time and money. The amount of each will vary depending on whether a company chooses to keep a blog in-house or outsource it, but making the wrong decision on this front can certainly prove costly. “Lots of businesses favour writing the content themselves because they like the idea that it is basically free marketing,” says Nolan. “But typically we find that when the reality of deadlines, the day job and actual tasks come to the fore, corporate blogging is the first thing to go. That can be quite damaging because a blog without posts on it, or one that hasn’t been updated very recently, can actually be more damaging than no blog at all. It may look as though your website has closed down or your business has ceased operating.”
Of course, should a company decide to take on the challenge of penning its own blog, due consideration should be given to the personnel that will be responsible for its upkeep. Delegating the task to somebody who knows the business inside-out is a good place to start, but Moore suggests that utilising a variety of voices can help engender a better reception from the desired target audience. “Entrusting the blog with one or two key members of staff but then inviting all members to submit guest posts can be quite rewarding,” she says. “We do that and it works quite well because it means there is a great mix of opinion on a variety of topics that everybody has an authority in.”
As with any form of marketing though, a blog is essentially a means to the same end: sales. However, so long as a company is consistently writing about subjects relevant to their own product, service or expertise – and sharing its blog on social media platforms – the fruits of its labour should start to show. For Nolan, the stats speak for themselves. “Research has shown that websites with a blog could attract up to 55% more traffic than websites that don’t have a blog,” he says. “So there are tangible commercial benefits to blogging as well.”
Patience is most definitely a virtue when it comes to blogging. But as long as a blog is above the bog standard, the benefits should become clear eventually. “Running a blog is not very rewarding initially; you don’t get much back,” Baker concludes. “But you really have to be able to push through because it does build over time.”
Sage and sound
If ever evidence was needed of how a blog can bring tangible results, business software firm Sage has struck gold with the blog for its cloud accounting software Sage One. Its customer base has grown threefold – from 6,100 to 21,000 – over the past year, and the company’s content and social media specialist, Paul Lancaster, is of the opinion that the blog has played a significant part in that growth.
“The blog has been very effective for SEO purposes but it also means we have got something we can share on almost a daily basis through social media,” he explains. “It is a great way of raising awareness of Sage One and once people are on the site, we can explain a bit more about the Sage One service and how it may be of benefit to them.”
Indeed, going the extra mile and really getting to grips with its target audience has brought sizeable rewards for Sage One. Far from just pushing the product, a deeper understanding of consumer needs has simply provided potential and existing clients more reason to revisit the site. “We do talk a lot about the product but we also try to include a lot of what we think are genuinely useful tips and advice for start-ups and small businesses who are our target audience,” says Lancaster. “It is all about bringing traffic to the site but also providing a deeper engagement with existing and potential customers and it has been proven to work in the past 12 months or so that I’ve been here.”
It certainly hasn’t been easy work for Lancaster, but he firmly believes that with the right people on board, a blog can do a power of good for any business. “I’m never short of things to write about or inspiration but that is just through practice because I have done it a lot in the past,” he says. “But I do think you need someone who is comfortable writing and has a deep and broad knowledge, not only of the products or services that you are selling, but also the world you are selling to as well.”