25/08/2011

By Mark Guinness, Creative Business Coach

"But my customers don't read blogs."

This is one of the biggest objections I hear from business owners to the idea of adding a blog to their marketing mix. They don't read or subscribe to blogs themselves, and they can't imagine their customers doing so either.

But this suggests that they don't appreciate the many business advantages a blog can bring them - whether or not their customers typically subscribe to blogs.

Here are five compelling business reasons to start a blog, regardless of whether your customers are blog readers (yet).

1. Own Your Online Presence

One dangerous idea (The Most Dangerous Threat to Your
Online Marketing Efforts
) in circulation at the moment is that you no longer need a website -- your Facebook page, Twitter feed, YouTube channel or Posterous account will do the job for you.

If you own your own house, it can be a sound investment to develop it. But if you rent a house from a landlord, you wouldn't dream of investing your own money installing a new bathroom or kitchen - that would just be adding value to someone else's property.

So why do it online, for landlords called Google, Twitter and Facebook?

If you're going to invest in building your online presence, make the foundations a website you own and control. Publishing a blog on your site is one of the most effective ways to do this. And it won't cost the earth - the industry-standard Wordpress software is free.

2. Authority and Reputation

When you publish regular, helpful, valuable, timely and/or entertaining content on your blog, you build an audience who respect you as an authority. They look up to you, say nice things about you, and refer others to you -- by traditional word-of-mouth as well as linking from their websites, blogs, and social networking accounts.

And when you are perceived as an authority, everything -- including selling -- becomes easier.

3. Search Engine Optimisation (SEO)

Your customers may not read blogs but I bet they use search engines. And publishing a popular blog is one of the most powerful ways to boost your search engine rankings.

One of the big myths about SEO is that it's all about fiddling with the keywords on your website, so that search engines will rank you for those terms. While this kind of on-site optimisation is important, one of the biggest factors that influence is your search rankings is links to your site from other sites.

If Google sees two sites with similar keywords and similar volumes of content, but one has only a handful of inbound links, and the other has been linked to by thousands of other websites, guess which one it's going to rank the higher?

Link building is one of the most important tasks in SEO, and blogging makes it relatively easy. Instead of having to beg for links or buy them (which could get you penalised by Google), when you publish valuable content on your blog - and promote it - you will naturally attract high quality links from other blogs, which will boost your search rankings.

Even if your blog readers never buy anything from you, they add value to your business every time they link to your blog or share your posts on social networks such as Twitter, Facebook and Google+ (Google + Bing Confirm that Twitter/Facebook Influence SEO).

4. Social Proof

Once upon a time the managing director of an advertising agency went online and searched for creativity training tailored to the needs of creative agencies. My Wishful Thinking blog was the first result he saw on Google.

When he clicked on the link, he landed on a busy-looking website full of articles and podcasts I had published about creativity and business. After the articles, there were plenty of comments from creative professionals thanking me for the advice I was sharing. There was also a counter showing that thousands of readers were subscribed to the blog.

All of these signs of social proof (indications of value from other people) helped to position me as an authority in his eyes. So he picked up the phone and asked me for a meeting. That meeting brought in several weeks' worth of training work.

That client has probably never read my blog, before or since. And most of my blog readers have never bought anything from me -- but by linking to my site and commenting on it, they helped to position me as an authority in the eyes of a customer ready to buy.

5. Generating sales and leads

As we've just seen, blogs can generate leads (if you're a service provider) or direct sales (if you sell products). They are typically better at this than social networks -- subscribing to a blog, especially if you hand over your e-mail address, is a bigger commitment than liking your Facebook page or following you on Twitter.

On the other hand, the conversion rate for your blog is unlikely to be as high as for your mailing list. When people sign up for a mailing list, they expect to get sales messages, which isn't always the case with a blog, so your mailing list subscribers are usually hotter prospects.

But guess what? Writing a blog is a great way to build a mailing list.

When people have received value from your blog, they will be more likely to trust you with their e-mail address. (That's why it was pretty straightforward for me to build a mailing list of over 6,000 subscribers in less than a year, off the back of my Lateral Action blog.)

It's a fact of life that most people are not going to buy anything the first time they visit your website. But if you offer them a free subscription, to a blog or newsletter, you open the door to developing a relationship with them over time, to the point where they know, like and trust you enough to choose you when they're ready to buy.

Of course you should publish the kind of blog content that's likely to attract customers, and it's great when you see your blog readers are buying from you. But sometimes this takes time. And I hope you're now starting to appreciate the fact that, as Hugh MacLeod says, "blogging is a great way to make things happen indirectly".

Blogging is not a get-rich-quick solution, it's an investment in the medium-to-long term growth of your business, and needs to be integrated into your overall marketing strategy. So don't do it if you're not prepared to invest a significant amount of time and effort, or if you expect to see a clear ROI by next month.

And if you're just starting out in online marketing, it's not necessarily the first thing you should do. You'll need to have effective sales pages in place. And you may want to dip your toes in the water with less demanding forms of content marketing - such as publishing a free report, ebook, video or autoresponder email sequence.

But if you're in business for the long haul, and you like the idea of building an online asset that will add value to your business by bringing your more visitors, subscribers, customers and collaborators over time, an outstanding business blog is hard to beat.

What do you think?

Which of these reasons resonates most strongly for you?

What would you add to the list?

Have you tried blogging to promote your business? How did it work out for you?

Mark McGuinness provides free advice about creativity, business and online marketing on his popular blogs Lateral Action and Wishful Thinking. Follow Mark on Twitter @markmcguinness


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