In today’s small business marketplace, creating personalized content, participating in the sharing economy, and developing meaningful connections with your customers are some of of the major goals of any marketing or promotional effort. A blog (like the one you’re currently reading – aha!) can be a great way to do this: it lets you tailor your message exactly as needed, giving you the space to develop and share great content that will keep your customers interested in the ongoing work of your small business. So you want to start a blog? Read on for some key small business blogging tips that will help make your web content a vibrant and successful part of your overall communications strategy.

  • It’s Not About You

Though it should be an online space where your personality and the unique things you do can be showcased, a blog is not simply a rolling billboard for your small business. Posts should be made on a range of insightful topics that will appeal to both your existing customers, and those who you hope to reach out to and do business with in future. Any small business blogging effort will benefit from knowing your audience and learn how to speak to their needs, interests and trending topics. Keep the content fresh, innovative and, most importantly, a source of valuable and varied information – this will help your customers come to trust you as a source for the insights that they desire. Don’t just post to advertise that you have a new product in stock: rather, tell your audience why you love it and why they should too. Give them the background, the specifications, the story behind the product. Anyone can search Amazon just to see if the Box-O-Matic 5000 is available: your blog can tell them all the interesting things about it that a standard listing just won’t get around to mentioning.

  • Wait, It Actually Is All About You

What I mean by this is quite simple: your blog should be your voice. If you’re an expert in a subject, deploy 100 percent of that expertise. Be conversational, clear, and concise – and do not compromise on your identity. Don’t be afraid of humour, or of breaking the “fourth wall” – you’re not just putting together a press release – unless your blog explicitly exists to be a venue for that kind of information. The individuality and tone of your content play a huge part in readers’ decision to subscribe and keep reading. For instance: I follow a blog by renowned rock recording engineer Steve Albini, in which he expounds at length on his own attempts at bizarre culinary experiments. I never miss an update, mainly due to the consistently hilarious tone, and the utterly transparent sense that Albini is writing for the joy of it. Write what you know, and make it personal above all: as I stated earlier, blogging should be all about creating personalized connections with your customers. Think of how you might engage in a friendly, offhand conversation with a customer, and bring that attitude to your publishing.

  • Keep a Schedule

You may have noticed that the Merchant Advance Blog publishes every Monday, Wednesday and Friday – this is not without its importance. Regular delivery of content is key to any blog’s ability to generate traction. There is no hard and fast rule in small business blogging that says “you MUST publish at least X times weekly/monthly” – but once you find the schedule that works for the message your business is trying to convey, stick to it. Readers will remain compelled and interested in your blog as long as you keep them engaged with great content, so give yourself the time to come up with that content – bland, recycled or space-filling posts made just to meet an arbitrary quota are far more of a deterrent to readers than a slight time delay between great posts.

  • Invite Questions – Answer Them – Build Bridges

Your blog can be a forum for the pressing questions that customers may want to ask. Keep your channels open and bridge the gap between you and your customers: invite inquiries in-store, online and on social media, then answer them on the blog as posts for all to see. This approach is highly personalized, shows everyone your knowledge and accountability, and allows you to display your commitment to customer service and transparency. Think of this approach as a more dynamic solution to the traditional FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) section of your business website. Knowing the kinds of questions your customers have can provide valuable feedback for your small business – and answering them directly and publicly will inspire confidence both for yourself and your patrons. At the end of a post, invite readers to comment, question, and leave their feedback on the blog itself as well as on your small business’s social media channels.

  • SEO Like a Pro

Of all these small business blogging tips, this one may be the most important. SEO, or Search Engine Optimization, is what gets your content noticed by major search portals like Google. Without good small business SEO practices, your insightful and informative posts may be lost in the mile-a-minute scrum of the Internet. You want to do everything you can to make sure that people can find you online, and that starts with understanding the way search engines “see” your content. SEO alone could be the subject of its own lengthy and involved blog post, but here are two key points to remember:

  • Define, and repeat, key words that are relevant to your post. Your publishing platform (WordPress and the like) will likely have a section in which you can input tags or key words that summarize the key content of a given post. Choose these keywords carefully: what would you search for in order to find this content? Think about it from the perspective of someone who hasn’t found your blog yet. They may not be searching for your particular small business, but they will be searching for advice on a given topic. Once you know your keywords, repeat them throughout your post. This is your “keyword density” – try to make mention of your keyword in at least 1 percent of your content.
  • Images can greatly improve the searchability of your small business. Using your own images if possible, rather than stock ones found online, is a huge benefit to the potential search ranking of your posts, as original images do not link back to any other source.  When you add an image to a blog, make sure to rename it: if your post is about dog breeds, instead of a dog photo titled “pic1234.jpg,” try “german-shepherd.jpg.” A dash is the equivalent of a space. You can also add titles and captions or alt-text to your images: make sure to include keywords about the image’s content in these fields so Google Image Search can identify them more easily.
  • Prepare to Share

Make use of multiple platforms to distribute your blog content to as many different kinds of readers as possible. If your small business has Twitter, Facebook, Google+ or any other social media connections, promote new content aggressively through these channels. Doing so allows for different methods by which links to your content can be shared to entirely new audiences. At the Merchant Advance Blog we routinely use Hootsuite as a “dashboard” for multiple social media and blog accounts, ensuring that content is posted across all the various outlets that we use. You can also include share buttons at the bottom of every post that allow users to quickly link to your social pages, to share content directly to their own page, or to give immediate feedback on your content.

 A blog can be one of the most interesting and organic ways to reach your customers. Questions? Comments? Ideas? Tweet us @advancecapital, comment below, or find us on Facebook!