Your business blog should give visitors something they crave—a good story—along with the expertise you alone have to share.
First, the good news: A business blog is a brilliant means of connecting with your customers and adding lustre to your brand. It’s an inexpensive way to establish credibility in your industry, broaden your reach, and build a readership.
And the bad: Corporate blogs are famously tedious to read. Too often, self-promotion trumps quality. The volume of writing on the web is enormous, most of it cheap and dreary. As a brand blogger your first task is to contribute as little as possible to the clutter.
So what does good blogging look like?
All Business Blog Styles Are Good (Except The Boring)
Lucky for you, it’s no secret. Good writing for the web is good writing, period. Concise, concrete, and vigorous, it reflects the clarity of your thought and the fidelity of your expression. As my colleague John Burns puts it, the clear presentation of sentences and ideas affirms the compact between reader and writer. It “reassures the reader that he’s in good hands, that his precious time will be well spent.”
I’ll include here five of E. B. White’s suggestions to young writers, taken from his 1959 essay An Approach to Style. As spurs to better writing, they cannot be improved:
- Place yourself in the background: “Young writers often suppose that style is a garnish for the meat of prose, a sauce by which a dull dish is made palatable. Style has no such separate entity; it is nondetachable, unfilterable. The first piece of advice is this: to identify your voice, begin by affecting none — that is, place yourself in the background. A careful and honest writer does not need to worry about voice.”
- Prefer the standard to the offbeat: “In choosing between the formal and the informal, the regular and the offbeat, the general and the special, the orthodox and the heretical, the beginner is best to err on the side of conservatism, on the side of established usage. There is simply a better chance of doing well if the writer holds a steady course, enters the stream of English quietly, and does not thrash about.”
- Be clear: “Clarity is not the prize in writing, nor is it always the principal mark of a good style. But since writing is communication, clarity can only be a virtue. And although there is no substitute for merit in writing, clarity comes closest to being one.
- Avoid fancy words: “Avoid the elaborate, the pretentious, the coy, and the cute. Do not be tempted by a twenty-dollar word when there is a ten-center handy, ready and able. Anglo-Saxon is a livelier tongue than Latin, so use Anglo-Saxon words.”
- Do not overstate: “When you overstate, readers will be instantly on guard, and everything that has preceded your overstatement as well as everything that follows it will be suspect in their minds because they have lost confidence in your judgment or your poise.”
Next come important strategic questions. Where do you want to ‘put’ your piece? That is, where will your reader encounter it? And what do you want her to do when she does?
Write Your Business Blog for Search (Meaning SEO)
SEO stands for “search engine optimization,” of course. Writing a blog post to secure a high Google ranking is as dreary and essential as flossing your teeth. And while both dentists and SEO experts will always insist that you that you can do a better job, feel free to take their advice with a grain of salt. If you do most things right, most of the time, you’ll be fine.
Figure out your main search term; your blog post should take aim at a single term. (This post, for example, targets “blog for business.”) Since your SEO goal is to attract users to your blog, the ideal search term is one with high traffic and low competition. Don’t make your selection out of thin air—research it beforehand, using the Google Adwords Keyword Tool.
Details matter. Your term should be simple, clear, and come in the form people would enter it using a search engine. One clever cheat: type your term into the search bar, letter by letter, and see what the predictive search returns as popular results. Don’t use terms that don’t appear there.
- Put your top SEO term in the blog post title, near the beginning: In most content management systems, the post title automatically also creates the post URL. This is the most critical SEO component to get right.
- Build keyword density at the top of the blog post: For maximum effect, you’ll want some repetition of your key term, its permutations, and related terms in the subhead, image caption and alt-text, and the top three paragraphs of your post.
- Use subheads rich with key terms: Large blocks of text are daunting to read, particularly for mobile users. Subheads break up your post. And in them, use keyterms—subheads are among the first pieces Google scans to divine a post’s meaning.
- Use a plugin that analyzes SEO quality: Which one you use will depend on your CMS, of course. On WordPress, we use an plug-in called Yoast. As you’re writing a post, it offers suggestions for how you can improve its SEO. At this point in the post, for example, Yoast’s suggestions are as follows:
Write Your Business Blog for Engagement (Meaning Clickthrough)
Writing for clickthrough presumes that you already have the reader’s attention, whether on your blog, a search results page, or, more likely, a social platform like Twitter or Facebook. What you want him to do, of course, is click what you’ve written. For that reason, everything depends on your headline.
- Choose your words carefully: They matter more than you think. Where the SEO headline is straightforward and prosaic—you call the thing “thing”; you don’t dress it up—the clickthrough is necessarily oblique. Its main purpose is to attract the eye and withhold a piece of information. Curiosity gains you the click.
- Create multiple headlines for the same blog post: Legendary adman David Ogilvy was famous for writing over 100 headlines for a single advertisement. The social sharing site Upworthy has woven the idea into its editorial process. The first instruction they give to all content creators? “You HAVE to crap out 25 headlines for every piece of content.”
- Make the reader feel something: Inspiration, indignation, curiosity, anger, fear, the warm-fuzzies—anything. Emotion is the key to making people click and share your content.
- Using headlines that deploy a “curiosity gap”: Upworthy and Buzzfeed are seasoned practitioners of this technique, which offers the promise of curiosity redeemed—on the other side of the click, of course. Upworthy’s two greatest hits are: “This Kid Just Died. What He Left Behind Is Wondtacular” (17 million pageviews), and “Dustin Hoffman Breaks Down Crying Explaining Something That Every Woman Sadly Already Experienced” (7.8 million pageviews). Silly and imploring as they are, I’ll bet you’re tempted to click them.
- Use humour: No matter your target audience, people love to laugh. And while, if you’re writing a business blog, you may feel you need to be 100 percent buttoned-down, you don’t. BuzzFeed headlines—like “21 Photos That Prove Hipsters Should Be Banned From Food Forever“—get the clicks because people know they’re guaranteed a bit of relief on the other side of that click. And, in business and elsewhere, a bit of relief in this life isn’t nothing.
- Use pop culture to your advantage: Making reference in your title to film or television—”8 Business Strategy Tips From House of Cards,” say—addresses a shared cultural understanding that helps establish a connection in the mind of your reader and more importantly, can evoke an emotional response. (See point 3 above.)
Remember: information is is cheap and ubiquitous. Your business blog should give visitors something they crave—a good story—along with the expertise you have to share. With an irresistible headline, and the smart content to back it up, people will not only visit your blog—they’ll share it.