Winning Post Ideas for Your Small Business Blog

by Josh Catone (MASHABLE)

Keeping content fresh is one of the most important things you can do on your small business blog.  Consistently putting out quality posts accomplishes two important goals: it turns visitors into repeat visitors and it creates a community around your content.  Further, good content builds on itself over time and will slowly increase your blog’s traffic as it becomes more discoverable in search engines.  However, blogging regularly isn’t easy, and while it’s true that almost anything can be turned into a blog post, generating ideas for fresh, original, high quality content is difficult, especially for those new to blogging.

In this post we’ll take a look at five different types of posts that you can use on your business blog.  We’ll talk about what these posts look like, explore why each variety of post works especially well for business blogs, and look at examples of each type of post from actual blogs around the web.

1. Advice or Tips

One of the easiest and most effective type of blog posts that you can write for your small business blog are those that give advice and tips.  Sharing your expertise can be an effective way to engage and provide value to readers no matter what type of business you own. These posts can take on two different forms depending on the goals of your blog. If you’re writing your blog in order to brand your business for thought leadership within your industry, then you should write advice for your peers about how you run your business successfully.  It may seem counterintuitive to share your business acumen with readers who might also be your competitors, but in the long run, establishing yourself as a leader in your field among your peers will help you sell more of your product or service and lead to opportunities in the press that bring exposure and awareness.

Social media consulting firm FreshNetworks, for example, routinely publishes social media tips on its blog.  Other social media consultants could certainly learn from that advice and use it to offer competing services, but in the end, the awareness that being a thought leader brings is likely worth more than the risk of helping competitors.

The other type of this variety of blog post is advice for your customers. It doesn’t matter what type of business you run, it is guaranteed that there are things you can teach your customers or help your customers better understand.  Whole Foods, for example, shares recipes on its blog, and printing company PsPrint uses its blog to give tips related to design.  The Quicken-owned Quizzle blog gives consumers advice about money and credit management, and the blog at financial startup Mint is filled with posts about how to better manage your finances.  Roto Rooter offers plumbing advice on its blog, and the blog of niche, gothic wedding clothier Wedding Skulls discusses wedding planning.  And those are just a few examples from a small handful of industries.

The idea behind advice or tips posts is that providing your customers with useful information builds trust and will increase the likelihood that they’ll shop with you.  Not every person who uses a recipe from the Whole Foods blog will shop at Whole Foods, of course, and not everyone who learns how to unclog a drain on the Roto Rooter blog will use that company’s plumbing services — but that’s okay.  The idea with business blogging isn’t to sell, it’s to build awareness and create a community around your company that increases the chance of future sales.

2. Behind-the-Scenes

Another type of post you can offer on your blog is a behind-the-scenes post.  Giving readers a look at what goes on behind closed doors at your business is an easy way to establish a deeper connection with your customers. On the BBC Internet blog, for example, the news web site gives readers a look at the reasoning that goes into decisions about the site and the process that the managers of the web site make. Keeping visitors plugged into the nitty gritty details of how and why they do things is smart because it makes their users feel more invested in the brand — if readers are let in on the secrets of production they’ll be more apt to feel a sense of ownership and develop brand loyalty.

The Bovine Bugle from Stonyfield Farms similarly takes readers behind-the-scenes, by sharing with them the ins and outs of organic farming.  The blog is written by farmer Jonathan Gates from Howmars Farm in Franklin, Vermont, which is one of the farms that the niche, organic yogurt producer deals with. Publishing Gates’ farm reports is an easy way for Stonyfield Farms to let readers in on the process and offer customers assurance of the authentic and organic nature of their products.

Fashion photographer Jason Christopher, meanwhile, uses his blog to share insights into the fashion industry.  He talks about his lighting design, the types of cameras he uses, and what it’s like to deal with models. By providing a behind-the-scenes look at his photographic process, Christopher is smartly advertising his methods to potential clients, while simultaneously providing interesting reading and thought leadership for his peers.

3. Case Studies

Case studies are a great way to grab attention and generate interest in you blog or business.  Design firm Metalab, for example, recently used its blog to take on Zappos by publishing a case study of the shoe retailer’s web site design in an open letter.  The design study had two positive effects for Metalab.  First, it created a lot of buzz and brought traffic to their design firm, and second, it demonstrated their design acumen by showing readers how they were able to pick out flaws in a well-known web design and offer suggestions for how to fix those mistakes.

Darren Rowse, who is one of the most popular writers about the craft of blogging, also used case studies when he was first starting out as a way to garner attention. By offering his thoughts on the designs of well-known blogs he was able to immediately insert himself into the conversation at a high level and demonstrate his knowledge of the subject. Noted logo designer David Airey does the same thing by publishing critiques of well-known brands on his logo design blog, Logo Design Love.

Case studies work best for service oriented businesses. Find someone who could use your service, and give them a virtual makeover for free.  Your critique will demonstrate your expertise and the quality of your results, and if you target well-known businesses for your case studies, they can also bring added attention.

4. Interviews or Profiles

Interviews or profiles are an easy way to add a human touch to your business blogging. By interviewing your employees, other people in your industry, or customers that use your products and services you can both provide value to readers and create authenticity by humanizing your blog and putting a face on your service, products, or industry. The blog for software creator FiveRuns, for example, used to run a regular series they called “Take Five,” in which they would ask five questions of experts within their field.  This series was a win for everyone involved. It provided an outlet for those in their industry to share their stories, it created value for readers who learned more about the people that defined their business community, and it brought traffic and awareness to the FiveRuns company blog.

One of the blogs published by work clothing maker Carhartt is the Tough Jobs blog, on which they profile Carhartt customers with difficult jobs.  The profiles are submitted by the readers themselves and almost always include a mention of the company’s clothing products. Carhartt has smartly enabled customers to participate in the conversation and evangelize their products by appealing to their desire to share their stories via profiles on the company’s blog.

5. Research

Though it won’t work for every type of business, another great way to create buzz around your business blog is to use it to offer industry research reports that will be linked to, blogged about, and repeated elsewhere.  That’s exactly what Internet marketing software firm HubSpot regularly does on their blog.  In the past they’ve used their blog to release reports on the state of the Twitterversehow web traffic converts to leads, and what sort of web traffic expectations you should have based on the size of your business.  These reports are not only helpful to readers, but they also bring awareness from outside sources via mentions on other blogs and press web sites.

When they first started as a consulting and design firm, software maker 37signals used research reports to generate buzz and build awareness of their new business, as well. They published a report in 2003 called the “E-Commerce Search Report” (1.2 MB PDF) that looked at 25 popular e-commerce web sites and rated their effectiveness at garnering search engine rankings.  Not only did the report bring traffic and attention to the design firm, but because they sold it for $79, the research actually brought in some revenue.

Clearly, some types of small businesses are better suited to creating research reports, but by getting creative, almost any business can figure out some type of information they can formally package and sell or give out in order to generate some attention.  For example, maybe you’re in retail and have been experimenting with the size and placement of end cap displays in your store — why not formalize that testing and release a report? Research demonstrates your expertise and can bring traffic and attention from people most interested in your line of work.

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