Written by Mark Williams
You’ve probably never heard of Justin Hall, but he’s widely credited as producing the first blog website (Links.net), created while he was a US college student in 1994.
It would be three years before Jorn Barger (editor of influential early blog website Robot Wisdom) coined the term “weblog”, which he used to describe the process of “logging the web” while “surfing” online. Barger is credited as the man who invented blogging as we know it.
In 1998, the first blog appeared on a mainstream news website in the USA, and one year later, programmer Peter Merholz shortened weblog to blog, the term now commonly used. Growth in popularity was rapid. According to WebDesignerDepot.com, worldwide, there were only 23 blog websites in 1999. Just seven years later – there were more than 50m. There are now thought to be more than 440m.
Probably the key benefit that blogging can bring is it can boost your search engine rankings. But using the right keywords in sufficient density, on-page optimisation (ie writing your website page in a way that allows search engines to easily understand what it’s is about) and other SEO tactics will only get you so far.
You also want links to your site from other, relevant, trusted websites, because Google also ranks pages according to how authoritative it believes them to be. Inbound links can really make a big difference to your search engine rankings and producing high quality, appealing blogs can encourage others to link to your website.
Raise your profile
You don’t have to confine your blogs to your own website, you can make them available to others. If your blogs are published on the right websites, it can seriously help to raise your business’s profile (online and offline), while including links can also drive traffic back to your website.
Being seen to have insightful or thought-provoking opinions as an expert on either small-business topics or those relevant to your trade or sector can enhance your personal and professional credibility. This can lead to other media opportunities, which can also raise the profile of you and your business.
Blogging can give a voice to your brand, giving others a better idea of what your brand values (ie what your business stands for). Blogs can also be a good way to reach out and start conversations, which can help you to develop trust and stronger customer relationships. This can ultimately create leads and drive sales. And one of the big benefits of blog marketing is it’s no cost or low cost (you can pay others to write blogs for your business).
Don’t bore readers
Before starting to blog, be crystal clear about your audience. Who are they, what needs do they have and what value can your blog offer them?
Avoid writing about boring subjects – they turn people off. Pick interesting things to write about. If there’s no avoiding a boring topic – at least write about it in an interesting way. Short blogs are best (600-700 words); favour short sentences and paragraphs that are free of jargon and spelling errors. Use subheadings to split up the copy and draw readers in.
Your blogs should be optimised for Google, of course. Keep the tone warm and accessible, but professional throughout. Show readers that you know what you’re talking about and let your personality shine through. Don’t pack your blogs with sales messages (they also turn people off).
Offer genuine value
Pick an irresistible title (asking questions is a proven tactic). From the off, engage readers with your words. Inform them. Provide them with a solution or useful knowledge. If suitable – entertain them or make them smile. Make them think.
Give them genuine value, because it encourages people to “know, like and trust” your brand. Before offering a contentious opinion, consider how it could be received (and how this could affect your business). Some subjects are best avoided, however passionate you feel about them.
Make sure, when published, readers can easily share your blog via email or social media platforms. Welcome feedback and engage in conversations. Tell readers how to contact your business if appropriate. You could even use the opportunity to get them to sign up to receive a regular email from your business. For best results, blog regularly and track response/results to see which blogs work best and when. Above all, enjoy it. Like business – blogging should be fun.
Mark Williams is a freelance editorial consultant, writer and SME content specialist with over 25 years' experience. He contributes to The Guardian Small Business Network and planned and wrote the Start Up Donut website. As well as award-winning magazines and websites, his writing has featured in national newspapers and Sunday supplements.
You can find out more about Mark's work on his website: www.markiwilliams.com