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How to Write a Great Blog

I know what you’re thinking: Writing is the worst! You haven’t had to write a paper since graduation; why ruin that streak now by writing a blog?

While writing may in fact be the worst (said the writer), it’s an important part of any digital marketing campaign. Why? Because blogs are one of the best things you can do to get noticed online.

Studies have shown that websites with blogs have a 434% chance of ranking higher in the search engine results! And everyone knows that higher rankings means more views and more conversions.

To ease the writing pains (at least a little), here are a few tips to help you write great blog posts to engage with your website visitors and increase online visibility.

Know Your Audience

Rule number one when it comes to blog writing: know your audience. Your blog should be written in a way that the reader finds entertaining, informational, and easy to digest. Since everyone is different, there’s no “one size fits all” style that works for all readers.

For example, we know our readers have the best sense of humor on the internet, so we like to write blogs in a fun, humorous style. It works for us. But a law firm that deals with car accidents probably shouldn’t be cracking silly jokes. It’s not appropriate for the topic and it’s definitely not what their readers want to see. Can you imagine being in a car accident, looking for help online, and reading a blog that makes light of your situation? Not a good look.

Learn what your audience likes and what they’re looking for. Once you understand their needs, you can give it to them! It’ll make your blog more engaging for readers.

Come up with a Killer Headline

Everyone always says, “don’t judge a book by its cover,” but we all do it anyway. That’s why you need to come up with a killer headline to draw people in.

The goal is threefold:

  1. Tell the reader what the blog is about.
  2.  Tell them why reading would be worth their time (value proposition)
  3. Sneak in some keywords

For example, would you have clicked on this article if the title just said “Write a Blog?” What’s it about? Is it a blog explaining why you should write a blog, how to write a blog, or just general information about what a blog is? Plus, there’s no reason to click. What benefit would there be in reading such a blog?

Instead, we used “How to Write a Great Blog.” It tells readers that the article is a guide to writing a blog (goal one), and they should click on it because it’ll make them a great blog writer (goal two). Even better, it will help you capture people who are searching for, “How do I write a great blog?”

Accomplish these goals, and more people will read and share your awesome blog content!

Make Your Blog Easily Scannable

I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but nobody will read your blog in its entirety. Most website visitors (as in 79% of them) will only scan your blog instead of reading everything word-for-word. So, with that in mind, make your blogs easily scannable:

  • Use meaningful subheadings (and lots of them)
  • Have one idea per section
  • Highlight important information (bold, italics, hyperlinks, etc.)
  • Include plenty of bulleted lists
  • Use short paragraphs

For those of you who didn’t just scan this section (thank you!), you can see this idea in action. If you don’t feel like reading ALL the tips for great blog writing, you can just look down the subheadings for the topic you’re most interested in.

If you come to one that might need some elaboration—like “Make Your Blog Easily Scannable”—there’s a handy bulleted list of tips to increase scannability, so you don’t even need to read the whole section to get the gist.

Plus, nothing is scarier than a giant “wall of text” staring you in the face when you click on an article. It doesn’t matter if you’re the best writer in the world, nobody on the internet wants to read all that. 

Breaking up text with subheadings, lists, and short paragraphs makes your blog look much more “appetizing” to readers and can reduce your bounce rate (visitors taking one look at your page and hitting the back button immediately).

Keep SEO in Mind (to an Extent)

Even business owners who live under a rock have heard of search engine optimization (SEO). It’s basically a few special tricks that get your web pages organically noticed by Google, so you can show up at the top of the search results.

Since the entire goal of writing a blog is to get noticed, using SEO best practices is very important:

  • Include related keywords at regular intervals
  • Use keyword-rich headings (and format them correctly)
  • Keep your article short and concise
  • Have both internal and external links

Now, before you go writing sentences like, “small business digital marketing tips for writing great blog posts to boost search engine optimization for more engagement and generating conversions” (ouch…), know that there is a limit to how much SEO is too much SEO.

Google is very smart. In addition to, well, everything in the universe, Google knows the difference between SEO stuffing and good writing. That means if they catch you writing horrible content for the sake of boosting your SEO (see awful keyword-stuffed sentence above), they’re going to punish you with low search rankings.

Above all, make your blog writing readable, relevant, and informational. Include keywords but only if they sound natural—and DON’T GO OVERBOARD. Good, solid content will win every time. So, think readability first and SEO second.

Tell Readers Where to Go Next with a Call to Action

All blogs should have a goal. You’re not writing just for funsies; you want readers to do something with the information they just learned. Instead of letting them figure it out for themselves, tell them the next step of the process with a clear call to action (CTA).

A call to action is like a stepping stone. It tells users where to go next. For example, if you write a blog for your coffee company about “the five best types of coffee,” you don’t want readers to go “oh, that was interesting” and close out of the page after reading. You want them to buy your coffee!

So, at the bottom of your blog, include a CTA that says something like, “hey, if you want to try any of these amazing types of coffee, come visit us or order online.” It tells visitors the next step of the process.

Think about what you want your blog to accomplish and include a strong CTA at the end to get users to stick with you on this exciting journey.

Now Get to Writing that great blog!

Alright, procrastination time is over. You know the tricks, and it’s time to get to writing. Think about your audience, draw them in with a killer headline, make your blog easy to scan, include a healthy dose of SEO, and finish it all off with a clear call to action. Do all that, and you’ll be on your way to becoming a great blog writer in no time!

And, of course, to follow our own advice, if you need help with your blog-writing or content marketing, just reach out to us here at Urban Sherpa. We’d love to help!

Happy marketing!

Cameron

Urban Sherpa Marketing Co. provides marketing and advisory services – and, yes, blog-writing! – to small and medium sized businesses across the U.S. Cameron Ripley is our blogger extraordinaire. 

Seven signs your business will benefit from more marketing… and six times it won’t

Marketing: is it for you? As marketers, we are firm believers that businesses can’t thrive without good marketing, because marketing is a powerful tool to get customers in the door. 

But we’re going to be the first to tell you: more marketing is not always a smart first move for every business. Most, yes… but not all. But how do you know?

Seven signs that marketing will really help your business

  1. You have a lot of really happy customers, but you never seem to get any new faces in the door. Do most of your sales come from loyal, return customers? Do you rarely see a new customer or get a new email address through your website? The good news is that your product (or service) is popular with your customers. The bad news is that you’ll always struggle to grow your business without new customers coming in. Is this sounds like you, it’s a sure sign that running targeted ad campaigns will result in new sales—and more happy customers
  2. When you get a new customer, they say, “I never knew you were here!” or “I never knew about you!” As lovely as it is to have customers excited about finding your business, hearing this is actually bad news… because it means that people aren’t aware that you exist. You have a potentially large customer base out there, just waiting to meet you! Running a few targeted ads will help you get in front of these excited potential customers.
  3. You get a lot of web traffic, but it doesn’t convert into sales. This one may surprise you a bit—since it’s a good assumption that, in this case people already know about your business, they just don’t want to buy. But remember, your messaging IS marketing, just as much as launching an ad campaign is. If lots of people visit your site, they obviously want your product (or one like it), but something on your website isn’t clicking for them. Take a really hard look at how well you are messaging your value propositions (the “why” people should buy from you). Even better, have a professional give you a quick messaging audit (yes! We do that!)
  4. Your customers generally like you, but you don’t get much web traffic. Pretty much the polar opposite of the last situation, this scenario indicates that people aren’t finding you easily online. You might argue that this doesn’t matter much If you’re a brick and mortar business. But you’d be wrong. In this day and age of the Google search, do not kid yourself: every business is an internet business. Let’s pretend you’re a carpet cleaner, for example. If someone searches for carpet cleaners near them, you want to show up in the results. If you’re not showing up, it’s a good sign you need to work on your SEO (Search Engine Optimization), and also consider building a Search Marketing (SEM) campaign. 
  5. Your only source of new customers is referrals. First, don’t get me wrong: referrals are great. They are one of the best sources of new customers. But the problem with them being your only source is that you’re restricting your potential customers to a relatively small group of people. The good news is that, because it’s clear your customers love you enough to refer you, you should be pretty confident that even more people will love you as long as they know about you. An ad campaign—one targeted to people that look and act like your current customers—will be extremely effective. And, yes, you can target lookalike audiences to your current customer list, as long as you have email addresses on file. 
  6. You have a product or service that only a very niche group of people is interested in. This is a case where targeted marketing is one of the few ways you’re going to get more customers. Walk-by traffic or broad-reaching ads, like newspaper ads, won’t do much for you. Put together some good, extremely-targeted ad campaigns and a solid Search Marketing campaign, and you will be golden.
  7. You have solid sales numbers and happy customers. Hey! Don’t look at me funny. A smoothly-running business always benefits from smart marketing to drive even more customers in the door.

Six signs that marketing won’t help your business (at least not right now)

  1. You already have plenty of business the way you are. This is obvious, of course. Marketing is a tool to gain more sales. If you have plenty of revenue, or enough clients that your book of business is full, it makes no sense to market. And good for you! (Though I’d still argue that you want to keep your website alive and pertinent… and perhaps keep a bit of a pipeline going?). 
  2. You have a product or service that nobody wants. I know this sounds harsh, but it needs to be said. There are some new businesses and startups that struggle with sales, then treat marketing as a magic bullet to “fix” the problem. Unfortunately, marketing can’t fix a product that people aren’t interested in. Be honest with yourself, get some market research done (we like PollFish for lowish cost market research), and make some changes before you try a big marketing push. 
  3. You’re priced wrong for the market. You can run the best ads, to the most targeted audience, with the best web copy ever written, and you won’t sell much of anything if people think your product is priced too high. Marketing is a sheer waste of money until you fix your pricing.
  4. You have a lot of bad reviews (especially when your competitors don’t). Don’t make the mistake of thinking that you can overcome bad reviews with better marketing. Social proof (the marketer’s term for reviews and testimonials) rules today’s world. If 50 people are saying your business is terrible, marketing will be a waste of money no matter how well executed. Instead, take some time to actively court good reviews from happy customers— as many as you can. Wait to launch your big marketing program until your online reputation is fixed.
  5. You have some major functionality issues that you need to sort out (bad location, backordered product, a rude staff member, punitive shipping rates, etc), Again, marketing is not magic. It can’t fix major problems in your business model. And even if you have a great product that people want, if you market heavily while these problems are in place, you run the risk of pissing a bunch of people off. And then you’ll find yourself situation number 4: trying to handle a bunch of bad reviews. Fix first, then invest in good marketing. 
  6. Your product or service is highly seasonal, and it’s not the right season. This is a bit of a gimme, since most people naturally understand this. If you only sell your product in the 3 months before Christmas, don’t bother with marketing in March. Similarly, if you do exterior painting, most people aren’t going to be thinking about getting a quote in November.

I’m absolutely certain that this isn’t a comprehensive list—on either the pro or con side—but it’s enough to get the point across: If your business “has good bones” but needs more customers, jump into marketing! It will help! 

But marketing isn’t, and should never be treated as, a magic bullet to “fix” a business. More than anything else, marketing is a tool. It’s a useful tool, but it’s just a tool. And, like all tools, it should be used wisely for the job for which it was intended. 

Happy small business marketing!
Katie & Theron

At Urban Sherpa Marketing Co. we offer marketing advisory, strategic planning, and services for small businesses and startups, including content marketing. Our goal is to make high-quality marketing possible for every business, no matter the size. Think of us as your outsourced marketing department, strategic marketing adviser, or even your phone-a-friend marketing lifeline. We specialize in building efficient marketing programs to grow your business without blowing the bank.

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Five Brainstorming Ideas for Great Content Marketing

Content marketing can be a very effective part of a long-term marketing plan, particularly for service businesses. This is why 70% of marketers actively invest in content marketingIt is, especially, one of the most cost-effective forms of marketing a small business can do. We’ve talked about that here already, so I won’t go into all that now. Suffice it to say, content is a good thing.

Of course, one of the major downsides of content marketing is that you have to produce the content. This is easy for big companies, who, on average, have one to three people working on their content programs – but it’s admittedly a bit harder on a small business owner with their hair perpetually on fire. 

How can a small business owner make a content marketing program work?

The key comes down to a few quick content marketing tips:

  • Produce the kind of content that is easiest for you (whether blogs, vlogs, podcasts, or infographics). This will keep you from procrastinating as much
  • Share information that you’re an expert on, so you don’t have to do a ton of research.
  • Set aside a bit of dedicated time every week/month (whatever your cadence is) to get it done.

Next, stop spinning your wheels about content topics. Yes, we know that’s harder than it sounds, but to help, we’ve put together some content starter ideas for you.

Five Brainstorming Ideas to Help You Produce High-Quality Content Marketing

First, before we launch into the thought starters, remember our game rules. First, the key to good content is to share information that people care about. Second, do not sell. This is not a time to talk about how great your product is. This is a time to provide people with information.

Now, ask yourself:

  1. What are common questions you get from customers related to your industry? Answer them, one blog at a time. You can use this for a series of blogs on Frequently Asked Questions in your industry. For instance, people always asked us the difference between SEO and SEM, so we wrote a blog on it
  2. What little-known facts can you share about your industry? I just discovered that sinkholes are a real insurance risk in Florida – a fact that I would never have guessed, but would matter to me quite a bit if I owned a home in Florida. Education your audience on stuff they don’t know, but should. Just make sure these little-known facts are interesting to your customer base. Don’t geek out so much that you lose people.
  3. How does what is going on in the world affect your industry? It’s always a good idea to pull your topics from the news. If you are a Realtor, for instance, it’s probably a great idea to write about how Covid-19 has (or hasn’t) affected the homebuying market. At an HR Consultancy I once worked with, we wrote an article on Pete Carroll’s management style and how you can put his technique to work in your own organization—right after the Seahawks won the Superbowl. Needless to say, it got a lot of engagement.
  4. What seasonal tips can you provide? Think about seasonal events, and how they may affect your area of expertise. If you’re an electrician, for instance, now is a great time to talk about safety when installing Christmas lights – and possibly even how adding an additional electrical circuit can protect your home. The bonus on this one is that you can use the same content in following years. It’s always a good idea to reshare your content
  5. What decisions do potential customers struggle with while they are buying? Before you call me out on this one, let me state for the record that I’m not suggesting that you write a sales blog. But there are often parts of the buying decision that you can help with by breaking them down. Ultimately this will also help them make the decision when they buy from you. For instance, if you sell shoes, you may want to produce a quick video on how to correctly fit your shoes. Or if you sell windows, you can write a blog that outlines the important points people will need to know to make the right decision for their home, such as the benefits of vinyl vs wood frame. 

These are just a starting point, of course. But do some quick brainstorming out of these five though starters and you’ll find you have a year’s worth of monthly content in no time. 

Before I sign off, I have just one more important piece of advice: don’t make this harder than it has to be! Once you get in the hang of it, you’ll find your rhythm and be off and running in no time. 

Happy small business marketing,

Katie & Theron

At Urban Sherpa Marketing Co. we offer marketing advisory, strategic planning, and services for small businesses and startups, including content marketing. Our goal is to make high-quality marketing possible for every business, no matter the size. Think of us as your outsourced marketing department, strategic marketing adviser, or even your phone-a-friend marketing lifeline. We specialize in building efficient marketing programs to grow your business without blowing the bank.

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Four quarterly marketing checks every small business should make

We just blew through the end of another quarter, which means several things for small businesses, including taxes. Sigh. Let’s talk about marketing checkups.

If you’re not already doing so, you really should be checking in on your marketing every quarter, especially if you tend to get it started and then go off and do other things, like run your business.

Marketinglike children, puppies, and a lot of other things in lifecan’t be just set up then left to sort itself out. You’ll end up spending too much money for too little result.

All that said, you don’t have to take a huge part of your already busy schedule to run this marketing check.

Here are the four top quarterly marketing checks that we recommend – and none of them should take too long:

  1. Check-in on your website. You may not have the occasion to look at your website very often, but remember, it’s the most important marketing tool you have in your arsenal. Look at it. Make sure it’s still working right. Make sure you don’t have broken links, as they are terrible for SEO. Then pull up Google Analytics and go over your usage data. Has your web traffic stayed about the same month-over-month? Are people staying on your site about the same amount of time? Has your bounce rate suddenly increased? Ideally, you should be staying steady or growing your traffic. Any changes in the wrong direction could indicate something going wrong elsewhere in your marketing implementation.

  2. Check in on your ads. Next, take a look at any digital ads you are running (non-digital ads are harder to measure). Check the click-through-rate (the percentage of people who see the ad that click through to your site: total clicks/total impressions = CTR). Check on how much you’re paying per click. If you notice your click-through-rate plummeting or your cost per click going up, it may be time to rework your ad or your audience. For instance, audiences can get “blind” to an ad that they’ve seen too much, and stop clicking, no matter how good the original ad was. You want to catch that and fix it. It’s also helpful to just look at your ad again, and see it with new eyes – especially if it’s been up for awhile. You may notice improvements you can make.

  3. Check on your marketing efficiency. This is especially important in small business marketing, where budgets can be usually are tight. Take a look at your marketing channels, and look at how much you’re spending vs. how much you’re generating from them. Unless you’re deliberately putting a lot of money into brand awareness advertising to grow your business, you absolutely don’t want to be pouring money into a marketing channel that’s not showing results. We recently discovered that a new client had spent more than $200 to sell about $40 worth of product. This sort of deficit can make sense as part of certain marketing strategies, but you absolutely don’t want to be doing it accidentally. If a channel isn’t working to support your marketing goals, ditch it fast and test a new one. Marketing pro tip: a marketing channel that most people forget to check ROI on is branded swag. Buying a bazillion logo pens rarely, if ever, pays for itself in marketing returns.

  4. Check in on your marketing goals/take a marketing reality check. Finally, take a step back from the daily grind and all the data and details and look at your marketing in the macro sense. Is your messaging still supporting your overall strategic goals? If your business focus has shifted, have you made sure to shift your advertising channels and audiences as well? Make sure everything still aligns with what you’re trying to achieve with your marketing programs.

The great thing about doing this quarterly is that you’ve had time away from it so that you can see everything with fresh eyes. And it doesn’t have to take that much time. Set aside about an hour of uninterrupted time, and dig in. Then go do your taxes.

Happy small business marketing!
Katie & Theron

At Urban Sherpa Marketing Co. we offer marketing advisory, strategic planning, and services for small businesses and startups, including content marketing. Our goal is to make high-quality marketing possible for every business, no matter the size. Think of us as your outsourced marketing department, strategic marketing advisor, or even your phone-a-friend marketing lifeline. We specialize in building efficient marketing programs to grow your business without blowing the bank.

How the heck do I afford marketing???

You’ve put your business plan together. You have sold a few widgets so you know people like and want your product. You have your supply chain figured out, and have ironed the kinks out of your service model. Things are going pretty smoothly.

 

But you need more customers.

 

So, you think to yourself, “I know, I need to get some marketing together”. And you call up a marketing company (like ourselves), or do some research on how to do-it-yourself… and discover that you need a bit more cash for marketing than you have just lying around, even for low-cost marketing help like us. So what do you do?

We’ve already talked (many times, in fact) about how important marketing is to your business. But at the end of the day, the reality is that you do need money to get anything from your marketing strategy. Even if you’re doing it all yourself, promotion — getting the word out to people beyond your immediate circle — takes cash, paid directly to vendors like Google, Facebook, LinkedIn, and such. And while the temptation is to keep marketing expenses as low as possible to preserve profitability right out of the gate, that can be a dangerous gamble.

Spend too little, and you’re not going to have any results because you’re simply not getting in front of enough people. The strategy described in the film Field Of Dreams – “If you build it, they will come” really only applies to massive skyscrapers and amusement parks.

How do you plan to pay for marketing then? What happens if your product margin doesn’t have enough room in it to pay for the marketing you need to do? The good news is that there are options. Here are a few tactics that we advise:

How to find the funds to pay for marketing:

  1. Build marketing expenses into the cost of your goods (or services). This may seem obvious, but a lot of businesses set their pricing without a good sense of how much it will take in marketing spend to get people in the door. A good rule of thumb is to add between 5-10% of the cost of goods (or services) to your base cost assumptions. One of the benefits of this approach is also that as your sales increase, your marketing funds increase (and vice versa.) It’s an easy way to keep expenses in check and to keep your marketing team (or agency) focused on driving revenue, too. The downside is that it requires constant monitoring and adjusting your marketing plans on a regular basis to stay ahead of sales trends and keep from over or underspending.

  2. Build a base marketing budget into your plan on a monthly basis. Think of marketing as no different than any other monthly overhead cost (like your rent). You can tie this to your revenue forecasts as well — you’re really just taking a flat % and applying it to your sales goals on a monthly basis (and, remember, you can build backward from your overhead costs — marketing as well as location, payroll, etc — to where you need to price your product). It’s very simple to keep track of your spending, as your targeted spend never moves from day to day. The downside is that if you miss your revenue, and still spend the total marketing budget, your bottom line suffers accordingly.

  3. Bonus: Establish a “co-op” marketing fund with your vendors. If you’re buying products from vendors and selling them at a markup, you can often build the cost of marketing into your purchase agreements. You simply ask your vendors to provide a specific % of your purchases back to you in the form of a marketing fund. The downside of this approach is that you’ll need to keep an eye on your cost of goods and make sure your vendors aren’t building more than the agreed-upon percentage into your purchases. This approach also works with service providers as well – call it a “referral” fee in that case.

 In any event, it’s still important to make sure you’re tracking the results of your marketing efforts and reconciling your spend at the end of every month to make sure your efforts are delivering what you need them to deliverBut we’ve written about that, too.

Happy marketing (and budgeting!),
Theron & Katie