Once upon a time, we wrote our innermost thoughts in a journal, which we stashed under the bed, firmly fastened with a lock and key. These days it seems we’re more than happy to splurge the contents of our heads online, whether it’s on a microblog like Twitter or a more full-on affair courtesy of WordPress, Typepad and the like. The blog has become our confidante, our chance to show the world what we’re really thinking.
In the business world, blogs are just as ubiquitous, but writing a business blog is very different from writing a personal one. As a natural and professional communicator, it’s very likely that you may have your own personal blog – but don’t think that this automatically qualifies you to write your clients’ business blogs! The skills and thought processes required are really quite different – and they’re different from those required for traditional media too.
Blogging: why bother?
For organisations in every industry, blogging is big business. Blogs are vital sales, PR and marketing tools which represent a chance to connect with customers, improve their reputation and – here’s the all-important end goal – increase profits.
Writing a business blog involves as much strategic thought as it does creative input, and the immediacy with which it can be created and broadcast sets it apart from other media.
Think of a business blog as the online mouthpiece of an organisation: more friendly than a print press release; less pushy than an advert; more immediate and relevant than a quarterly in-house magazine. Your challenge, with all of the gifts that a blog brings, is this: to create something that is of genuine interest to readers and of genuine benefit to your client.
What’s in a blog?
The content itself is where you’ll find the greatest difference between business blogging, personal blogging and traditional media formats. It’s not only perfectly acceptable but even welcomed to write a short blog entitled “Five top tips for wearing summer dresses” with all of the links and pictures featuring your client’s products. Try pitching that to the national press and you’ll soon get used to doors being slammed in your face.
Whether you’re writing planned content or an ad hoc entry, your imagination and creativity will be as necessary as your ability to adapt different writing styles. Blog posts usually fall into one of three categories: news pieces, where you react to a relevant news item of the day; comment or opinion pieces; and list pieces (e.g. ‘10 ways to write a business blog’).
As with any other feature or news piece you might write, you need to make sure that your tone of voice suits both the client and the type of piece you’re writing. An opinion piece calls for a thoughtful, considered tone, even if you only have 300 words to play with. (Yes, 300 words. Customers don’t want to spend hours reading your blog posts, so less is usually more. You’ll probably find that a shorter word length will encourage you to be more creative anyway.)
Make sure that you’re fully conversant with your client’s mission statement as well as the values of their customer base when you’re writing an opinion piece. This is a chance to engage people, so don’t risk alienating them because of inadequate research.
List pieces can be of lighter tone and shorter, snappier copy is most appropriate here. The accent is on usefulness and maybe even a little humour depending on the subject matter.
News pieces are the ones most likely to be at your client’s behest, but it goes without saying that as a PR you should be one step ahead, identifying opportunities from the news agenda to create responsive blogs. If you spot something relevant in the news, call your client as soon as you can to firm up an idea.
Creating a schedule
It stands to reason that a business blog must be well thought-out and targeted. You need to create a schedule of content that takes into account what the client wants to explore, discuss and achieve on a weekly, monthly and yearly basis.
Having said that, there will inevitably be times when your client will ring you up and ask you to fire up a quick blog reacting to the big story of the day. You must allow for this, as this immediacy of response is the beauty of blogging. The only other creative format as quickly responsive as this is stand-up comedy, where a comedian can write a joke reacting to a news story in the afternoon and perform it on stage that very evening.
It’s a good idea to agree with the client the minimum and maximum numbers of blog posts per month. Let’s face it – you don’t want to fall into the over-servicing trap. If your client wants some flexibility to request ad-hoc content alongside the scheduled pieces, make sure your contract provides for this flexibility, and you are able to invoice for everything you write.
Last but not least … remember the search engines
Blogs must be optimised for the search engines! Yes, blogs are great for PR but that’s not why most clients pay to have them written. Nine times out of ten they’re paying for a higher profile in the search engine results pages (SERPs).
So, what do you need to do? First of all, find out which keywords your client wants to rank for. Then, make sure you target these keywords within your blog articles. The keywords need to be woven into the titles, copy and tags of each new blog piece.
Don’t stuff every blog article full of every keyword: rather, work your way through the client’s list of keywords in a systematic way. The beauty of regular blogging is that, over time, you’ll be adding hundreds of pages to your client’s site so there will be plenty of opportunities to create content around their most important keywords.
Emily Hill is Managing Director at content agency Write My Site