So, you have decided to commit to writing a blog for your business. A blog can be a great tool — it lets you communicate directly with your customers and can really boost your online presence.
But it does take time and effort, like all good things; and I know well that it’s not always easy coming up with fresh ideas.
I’ve been writing this blog for four or so years now. I don’t update it as often as I should but it is an important part of my communicating with clients about what my business does, what we know (this is important for a service provider) and a bit about who we are.
So, where can you get ideas for regular and effective content? Brainstorming will bring up a few, but it pays to have some resources on hand for when you hit ‘blogger’s block’.
Here are some thoughts on what to do to keep those creative juices flowing and to stop you heading off on the wrong track.
See the title of this post? And see the date of my previous post? Yes, I know!
One of the big problems for small business owners is the time and thought involved with keeping social media fresh. Without dedicated comms staff to do the leg work, social media participation can easily become a burden on top of managing clients, staff, bookwork, etc.
If you don’t have the time to do it well, or the budget to outsource, an option is to have a website purely as a static brochure (as, otherwise, you will be totally invisible online) but to forgo the blog or the Facebook or Twitter account. A poorly maintained social media account is a worse marketing strategy than no account at all. You may have more targeted methods for reaching your clients.
Having said that, a regularly updated blog does show you as a thinker, a knowledge centre and a communicator in your industry and is very helpful for giving potential clients some idea of your expertise and suitability for their projects.
It also lets customers build a relationship with your organisation by posting comments under your original post and so starting a dialogue with your business.
On top of that, search engines love blogs, they are always looking for fresh content. The more you blog, the more search engines will index your site, giving it potentially better visibility in search results.
Communication is good … just don’t wait 13 months before before writing your next post!
Just back from the TCANZ 2012 conference in Auckland where it was good to have two overseas speakers pushing us to consider ‘technical communications’ as a brand, even if most of us are so deep in the trenches doing the work that we don’t get often a chance to consider how to market our ‘profession’.
But that was their main argument — that we can’t really call technical communications a profession just yet, as it lacks the infrastructure that professions require, especially the standards, independent certifications and professional development that established ‘professions’ (law, accounting, architecture, for example) have. And that having that type of infrastructure is the best base from which to build the brand.
TCANZ this year has started a process to see what steps could be taken to introduce such measures in NZ and Australia. And, with training fairly ad hoc for most practitioners in New Zealand, I am very supportive of this work. I think with measurable standards we will be more clearly able to articulate our value to employers and clients.
The working party has though decided that the sector may be too small to support a full-blown certification programme but it is continuing its work to see what would work in a market our size.
A mentoring programme is one initial suggestion — so senior practitioners would help newcomers to the sector; and that sounds a good start.
Headlines may be the most important words on your website.
No matter how great the content of a web page or blog post, if your headline doesn’t grab people’s attention, you’ll lose them.
Promise a benefit
“A compelling headline must promise some kind of benefit or reward for the reader, in trade for the valuable time it takes to read more,” says Copyblogger’s Brian Clark.
Read more from Brian at How to write headlines that work.
Researchers from Marketing Experiments have a similar view: “All marketing messages must be centered primarily on the interests of the customer. Therefore, when it comes to crafting headlines, emphasize what the visitor gets rather than what they must do.”
Plus “the goal of a headline is similar to the goal of the opening scene of a movie — to arrest the visitor’s attention and get them into the first paragraph” so “place the value at the front of the headline”.
Details on the Marketing Experiments research is here.
Write for search engines as well as humans
Tips for writing headlines that appeal to search engines are at How to write web headlines that catch search engine spiders.
Writer Shawn Smith says make headlines clear, concise and short, and have them include keywords and phrases relevant to the article and what people are likely to search for.
A winning headline is important to attract readers to your web page or blog. But how do you make sure they read on?!
Here’s a summary of views from some experienced bloggers and web writers.
Australian Darren Rowse, founder and editor of ProBlogger, says your opening line really does matter: “Readers will make a snap decision about whether to read your post by how you open that post, both in the headline or title and the opening line.”
Read more from Darren at 10 tips for opening your next blog post.
Danny Iny of Firepole Marketing, in the United States, says “describe in vivid detail the current, frustrating experience of your intended reader. Then, at the very end, you hint that you have a solution, by saying something like ‘It doesn’t have to be this way …’, or ‘Here’s how you can fix it’, or ‘Here’s why some people don’t have this problem.’“
Read more from Danny at A fool-proof formula for easily creating compelling content.
Melanie Lundheim, a freelance writer and founder of Good Copy Fast, says when thinking about what will make your readers “need” to read on, see if you can “invoke a strong emotion among members of your audience, and… strike on their pain points.”
Read more from Melanie at Writing for conversion: the hook, line and sinker method.
Debbie Weil, an online marketing and corporate blogging consultant in the United States, says “you have to reveal enough information to make the reader long for more of the same.”
Debbie has tips on writing an online hook at 5 tips to write a sexy teaser.
This October, I’m speaking at the Technical Communicators Association of NZ (TCANZ) biennial conference.
The conference theme of new directions in technical communication will, hopefully, be boosted by my 60-minute contribution looking at professional pathways and careers for technical communicators in New Zealand.
If that all sounds a bit dry, don’t worry, my session is hopefully going to be more rock and roll meets user manuals than didactic lecture! Do come along — you’ll have fun and learn stuff.
The two-day, Auckland conference features some world-class speakers from the United States and Australia (Saul Carliner, Anne Gentle, Neil James) and a great bunch of very clued-up Kiwi presenters. Registrations open on 1 July.
I’d encourage all technical communicators to attend. The last TCANZ conference in 2010 was very well run and totally relevant. You can expect more of the same this year.
Managing the content creation for new websites can be a crazy jumble of emails, spreadsheets, Word documents, draft pages, missing-in-action writers and management demands, so I was very pleased this morning to be pointed towards a sweet-looking, online tool for keeping the whole shebang orderly and workable …
Gather Content is a content management tool that looks to have all the features I’d need for my next project. Everyone works in the same system and all revisions are visible and shareable.
Ok, yes, haha, I haven’t actually tried the system yet, but the promise of content development clarity was a bit of a beacon that pulled me in.
Although, with recent news that Chinese will soon overtake English as the main language of the internet, maybe it would be of greater value to learn Mandarin before investing in a new English-language tool!
(In the past decade, English has shrunk from being 39 percent of all internet content down to just 27 per cent at the end of 2011, just 3 per cent ahead of Chinese, which has grown 11 per cent in the past 6 or so years.)
In our work we spend a lot of time sending written documents back and forwards with our clients, and sometimes email just doesn’t cut it, especially if we want to send large documents or collaborate on writing.
Luckily there is a huge range of free, online tools to help make it easier to share information and collaborate online. Here’s a good list of some useful services (more…)
I like the idea behind the Paper.li service. It lets you easily set up and automatically send feeds from Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and RSS into a pre-built online newspaper.
Every day Paper.li monitors your feeds and from them builds a newspaper-like page of clearly laid out articles with headlines, photos and links, and sends you the latest edition. (You can also manually add any web content you like to a newspaper.)
If you like the content you receive, simply push a button and send it to your social media followers; or if you are confident your feeds will always provide relevant information, you can set the paper to automatically send itself out every day. People can also subscribe to your newspaper.
There are hundreds of thousands of papers around the world.
The paper.li site has a community area with tips and hints on how to use the service. (more…)
Back in the day, an online presence was all about being easily seen and found by a wide audience. It’s interesting now to watch moves by many real-world businesses to use the net to communicate with local audiences — people in their own city or even their own neighbourhood.
You may also have noticed that Google searches have local searches showing up more often.
So what does this all mean if you want to communicate via your website with local people?
The first step is to have locality-based information in your page copy, links and titles. (more…)