Blogging – A Reality Check

If you own a business, you’ve probably heard that a blog is a great way to add regular content to your site and that it will help get you found by potential customers who want whatever it is you’re selling. Both points are true.

But you want to know what else is true? Your blog won’t “make it big” overnight. Your blog might never make it big, depending on your definition of “big.” And if your blog does make it big, I can guarantee you one thing: it will require a lot of hard work, even after you make it.

Want proof? Here it is:

I recently stumbled on Young House Love, a husband-and-wife blogging team that has turned what started out as a simple blog to keep friends and family updated on the couple’s home improvement projects into a marketable, enviable brand. These are two beautiful people who are in love and doing beautiful work, so I was quite pleased when I read this honest assessment from Sherry on her blogging adventure, and I quote:

We’re not gonna lie – it’s the hardest job we’ve ever had. The biggest misconception is that our blog is a part time thing that we spend a few hours a day on. When friends and relatives picture me out on the patio with a magazine and a cocktail I snort with laughter. It’s hard to put into words how we manage to spend every waking moment working on the blog, but we’re essentially writing over 45 posts a month AND taking and uploading photos AND running an online shop AND offering design services AND coordinating giveaways AND answering up to 100 email and comment questions a day AND making & editing videos. Not to mention actually doing the projects on our home that we then photograph and write about. It’s pretty much a never ending to do list! In all honesty, I’m a million times busier than I ever was in my old New York City 60+ hour a week job. We work nights, weekends and on vacation (after all, the internet is 24/7!) so sometimes it can all be very exhausting. And I don’t make as much as I used to. I actually took a pretty hefty pay cut to see this full-time blogging thing through.

Sherry also makes another important point: she didn’t set out to write a blog that would fill a niche. She and her husband simply wrote about what they were passionate about, and the followers, slowly but surely, began to flock.

This point is worth repeating in Copy Bitch clarity:  passion-filled blog posts will attract more followers than writing around keyword phrases and creating optimized titles. Ideally, you should do both. But start with your passion. Unleash it. Let it lead you.

So you wanna blog for your business and have the sort of success YHL has experienced? Well, be prepared to:

  • work your ass off
  • write about things you really, really care about
  • do it regularly – yes, even when you don’t want to; yes, sometimes on weekends; yes, maybe even some holidays; yes, possibly on vacation
  • make mistakes
  • learn from your mistakes
  • ignore critics (well, most of them)
  • write, write, write
  • oh, and write some more

I realize not everyone is looking for their blogs to go ga-ga like YHL. But you know what? Even if you’re not looking to make it big like them, the bullet points above still apply, even for your modest 3-times-a-week business blog.

Update: It’s July 2017 and YHL took a major blogging hiatus a few years ago. They’re now doing a podcast and the occasional blog post.

My point: your blogging life will evolve. I’ve seen people hot-and-heavy with their blogs for years, and then they hit a wall. Others, continue on slow and steady.

So does your business need a blog? HubSpot and other marketing gurus say all businesses MUST blog. I hate “must” directives. You shouldn’t do something just because someone tells you to. Understand how your business *could* benefit, understand the drawbacks, and be realistic about what you can and can’t commit to. Blogging is a big part of my business, meaning I do lots of blogging for clients who are too busy to do it themselves. This a great compromise. Learn more about my blogging services here.

Case Study: Simple Steps to Better Blog Promotion

Dear Copy Bitch: As my favorite bitch when it comes to critiquing copy and writing style, would you take a peek at my blog? I’m interested in any feedback on writing style, length, readability, etc. If it’s boring shit that nobody would want to read, please let me know.

—DJK, Wellesley, Mass.

Answer: Here’s what I tell my clients: the key to a blog is passion and consistency. You need to be passionate about your topic, and you need to blog at least 3 times a week. Since yours is a personal blog, rather than a business blog, the rules regarding consistency might not need to be strictly enforced, but the passion part is a must. And you got that! Baseball and radio are two of your biggest passions. I’ve enjoyed reading your posts. They’re informative and entertaining. So write what you’d want to read. The fans of both will enjoy reading the posts…if they can find your blog.

Which brings me to the issue that may be plaguing your blog: promotion. Here are some simple things you can do to promote your blog…and to keep fans coming back: [Editor’s Note: Some of these suggestions were implemented right away, so if you look at the blog listed above, you might actually be viewing some of the solutions as opposed to the “problems.”]

1. Add an RSS feed at the top of the upper-right hand sidebar. You’ll need to claim your feed through something like Feed Burner (it’s free)

2. Add a “Subscribe via email” option right below it. Think of both of these things like the pre-program buttons on your car radio. Let fans of your blog have an easy way to find you and be reminded of you (the email subscription will send an email to your subscribers whenever a new post shows up…I believe you subscribe to my blog, so you probably know how this works).

3. Claim your blog on Technorati, if you haven’t already done so. This post will tell you why and how to do it. (Takes just a few minutes, and it’s free.)

4. Consider rebroadcasting your posts automatically to Facebook and Twitter through Twitterfeed (again, this is free). The reasons why you should opt for this as opposed to doing manual updates are 1) it saves time 2) it automatically shortens the permalink to and 3) you can see how many people click on the link. Oh, and it’s my favorite price: free.

5. Add a “share button” of some sort to each post. Blogger probably has a plugin. Or if you google “add share button to Blogger,” I’m sure you’ll find tutorials and info. I’m on WordPress, which, unfortunately, has some limitations. I use a free service called Get Social. After I publish a post, I immediately create the “share button” through Get Social. I add the HTML to the end of the post and then update the post. It takes maybe a minute. The purpose of the share button is you want to make it super simple for readers to share your posts with others through Twitter and Facebook etc. This will get you more exposure and more readers.

6. But before you do Twitterfeed or the social button…I just noticed you don’t have permalinks enabled on your blog. You need to do that first. Here’s a post that tells you why and how to do that in Blogger.

7. I’d remove the Google Followers widget, if you can. Wait until you have a healthy number of subscribers, and then you can show it again or show a “feed reader.” [Editor’s Note: This was done immediately by the blog owner, per my suggstion.]

8. You should be able to manipulate the title tag of your blog. Right now in the title tag (the blue bar at the top of your screen), the URL is showing up. Instead, you want it to say something like “View from Section 29: Musings on Baseball, Radio, and Whatever.” That way, if people bookmark it, they’re bookmarking an actual title. Plus, people expect to see words there, not a URL.

9. Create a more robust profile…actually include a little paragraph of info about you (see mine and look at others).

10. Promote complementary blogs by listing them in your blog roll (also, comment on these blogs…that’s the way to get them to potentially comment on yours).

Those are my quick-hitting thoughts. Let me know if you have any questions.

Blog Content Question

Dear Copy Bitch: I met a chiropractor in my local BNI chapter who is looking to possibly launch a blog. I took a look at his website today, and it seems that he has used this special web provider for chiropractors: [name redacted]. This provider provides all sorts of content with automatic content updates and a full newsletter library. The trick is, you have to be a “member” to log in and see this content.

Do you have any ideas about what benefits this doctor will get by having a personal blog that he won’t get by simply having the mass-produced content available? The one thing that I can think of is that potential customers who are just browsing for information may not want to become a member just yet, and that this requirement may send them away never to return. But I thought you might have some additional ideas.

–Addie Z.

A: Okay, if I’m reading this right, it sounds like he has a blog with automatically generated content, but people need to login to view the blog posts. If that’s the case, here’s my take: I can’t think of any business blogs where people have to register to see the content. The whole point of the blogosphere is to have immediate, relevant content at your fingertips when you need it. Many blogs require people to register in order to post comments, but I can’t think of any business blogs where you have to register just to SEE the blog (personal blogs are different; many people lock those, and for good reason). He’ll lose a lot of people right there who don’t want to bother with registration or who don’t want to surrender their info. And he’ll also lose those valuable inbound links. One reason businesses have blogs is so that people will link to their blog posts. Those links can help rankings (if the blog is integrated correctly with the website) and help drive traffic to the business site.

As for the auto-generated content, there are two issues. First, Google doesn’t like duplicate content. So if a blog post is being published on his blog and 20 others, Google doesn’t like that. No one (except the folks inside Google) can say what sort of “penalty,” if any, exists, but a good rule of thumb is to avoid duplicate content. Which brings me to the second issue. One of the other reasons to have a blog is so that you can create a community, engage with your customers or potential customers, position yourself as an expert, and give something back for free: your expertise. The best blogs do all these things.

I imagine he’s doing the auto content thing because he feels he doesn’t have enough time to devote to a blog or that he doesn’t have enough ideas. I do believe that the key to blogging is consistency; I always encourage my clients to blog at least three times a week. Blog posts needn’t be long or Pulitzer-prize worthy. They need to be real, relevant, and conversational. As a chiropractor, I bet he has a ton of topics to blog about. If he doesn’t have the time to do it, he could hire someone (like you) to ghostwrite his posts (option #1) or be his blog writer (#2). If he gave you 30 minutes of his time per week, he probably could give you enough copy points for at least three blog posts (and they don’t all need to be text heavy; you could link to interesting articles related to chiro or other forms of complementary medicine, you could have a poll or survey, you could post a relevant cartoon, you could do “video cam” posts [e.g. maybe of an exercise demonstration that helps with lower back pain]).

Encourage him to make his blog public and to create fresh, customized content.