We hear all the time that blogging on a company website is a really good idea. What we hear less is how much freaking work effective blogging requires. As my father is fond of saying, “If it were easy, everyone would do it.”
Want a quick breakdown of what that work looks like?
When writing a blog post, you need to take into account:
- Target audience
- Keywords and searcher intent
- Search engine optimization
- Editing again
- The post's place within an overarching marketing campaign
- Post promotion
Yup. That’s a pretty intimidating list.
But the benefits of blogging well are definitely worth the work. A good blog will:
- Get traffic that’s legitimately interested in your services to your website.
- Connect with your target audience and foster a sense of community.
- Promote your services/products.
- Win friends and influence people in your industry.
Achieving those results requires your blog to be useful to your readers, where “useful” can mean actionable or even purely entertaining.
Here’s the catch: If your blog is guilty of following bad practices, you will actively harm your business in a way far more damaging than if you never had a blog in the first place.
A good standard is that if you can’t say something useful on your blog, don’t say anything at all.
To figure out whether your blog is useful to your readership or not, you should audit your posts to make sure it’s free of the following bad practices that can turn your blog from a marketing powerhouse into a liability.
Because blogging isn’t easy. And not everyone should do it.
Bad Blogging Practice #1: Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Posts
What makes a blog post “terrible, horrible, no good, and very bad” is a pretty huge and hazy topic, so I’m going to distill it down into three general bits.
A blog post can be “terrible, horrible, no good, and very bad” simply when it conveys erroneous information — in other words, a blog post is bad when it isn’t factual.
Blog posts can also be “terrible, horrible, no good, and very bad” by being irrelevant to their target audiences or by suffering from typos and bad grammar.
Conveying erroneous information is probably the most grave offense a blog post can commit. If someone’s going to take the time to read your post, it better not be blatantly wrong. It’s impossible to be 100% correct all the time — we all make mistakes — but readers assume that they’re at very least getting the writer’s best attempt at delivering factual information.
Just-plain-incorrect information in a post can be disastrous. Spreading bad information shows your customers, your industry, and your potential business partners that you’re either too lazy to validate what you say or that you’re woefully uninformed.
That’s a serious confidence killer that no business can afford.
Irrelevant posts are barely better. Let’s look at a pretty clear-cut example: If you run a bakery, you should not publish posts about nuclear waste management facilities. People tooling around on your bakery blog are probably searching for something like a donut glaze recipe. Giving them posts that have nothing to do with your business is off-putting and shows that you don’t know or care what your readers want.
Irrelevant posts send a bad message to potential customers and can even weird out your most loyal of patrons.
The exception to the rule is if you can compare bakeries to nuclear waste management facilities in an intriguing way. Drawing together disparate topics unrelated to your business into a coherent post is actually a sign of creativity and sophistication, but you must be able to tie those disparate topics back to a larger topic that IS relevant to your business. This is really hard.
Small businesses can do this well, but it takes serious elbow grease. That’s why many people choose to leave that kind level of finesse to a professional writer.
Finally, incorrect grammar is pretty straightforward downer. Nothing turns readers off quite as fast as seeing misspelled words or rogue punctuation.
According to a study by Neustar and the Ponemon Institute, websites that contain basic errors and mistakes are the absolute least likely to be trusted. Basic errors show a general sloppiness that hints at incompetence at best and negligence at worst. That’s a huge blow for small businesses that are trying to earn the confidence of their target audience — especially the high levels of confidence that can turn a reader into a customer.
How to do it better:
Erroneous information can be hard to guard against, even if you’re being diligent. But that’s the best you can do: be diligent! Cite your sources when you make assertions and vet the sources you cite. If you need to make an update to a post to correct a mistake, that’s okay. Just make sure you’re offering the best information you possibly can to your readers. Again, the best defense is diligence, which takes time and effort.
Relevance is often much harder to get right. The short answer is that the most relevant posts emerge from serious research into your target audience. What do they want to know? What are they interested in when it comes to your industry? What can you offer them?
You can start answering these questions for your unique audience by researching your local customers and what keywords they use.
As for keeping things correct in terms of spelling and grammar? Easy. Hire a copyeditor. Or at least have someone grammar-savvy look at your post before it goes live.
If none of these solutions are within your grasp, you might be better off waiting before you even add a blog to your site. Harsh, but true. It’s better to go without a blog than to alienate the very people you’re trying to court, like customers and partners.
Bad Blogging Practice #2: Sporadic, Short Posts
So writing a good, effective blog post takes a lot of research and a lot of work. Not everybody has the time to produce posts that are thoroughly researched and well-written.
Why not just post less often? Why not just post some shorter posts?
Good questions. I’m sorry to report that neither of these are particularly great options.
First, posting less often might seem like a brilliant plan. You can take as much time as you need between posts so that you can write absolute masterpieces! Foolproof.
Weeeeeell, not really. If you’re trying to rank well in the search engines, you should know that Google loves “fresh” content (recently indexed, new content) to an almost unhealthy degree. That means that the more you post on your blog, the newer and more original your content, the more people are likely to find your posts through search.
Also, you won’t build a community and a following for your blog by tossing up posts whenever you feel like it. Having a schedule of consistent, quality posts is the only way to earn regular readers.
Basically, writing posts inconsistently can stunt your ability to form a sense of community with your blog readers and seriously hurt your chances of ranking in the search engines.
Next, for those hoping to keep up their blog by posting some easy-breezy short posts, I have some bad news. HubSpot, a company that publishes consistently excellent posts on its blog, recently took an in-depth look at what posts were most shareable and drew the most traffic. They found that, by a rather large margin, their longer posts did the best.
By longer posts, of course, they mean 2,500+ words.
That’s pretty hefty. For reference, this article is 2,672 words long.
Also, yet again, search engines tend to like longer pieces of content.
Does that really mean that it’s better not to blog at all if you can’t produce long posts?
Sometimes not. After all, most blogs don’t necessarily publish lengthy posts all the time. Plus, there’s something to be said for pithy, bite-sized pieces that deliver a lot of information in a small package.
But when it comes to business blogs, the benefits of blogging tend to be achieved when posts are longer.
And if your posts aren’t achieving what they’re supposed to (bring in traffic, build authority, etc.), they’re likely not worth typing up in the first place.
How to do it better:
Writing longer pieces of content is challenging. The easiest way to achieve quality posts that hit the 2500+ word mark is to actually know what you’re talking about and to give a damn about it.
It’s exponentially more difficult to do this on the kind of consistent basis that will please the search engines.
Determining what “consistent posting” means for you is also highly dependent on what you want out of your blog. If you want to dominate the search engines, especially in a competitive niche, you really will need to publish posts once or twice a week. On the other hand, if you just want to stay connected to a community of readers who expect one post per month, then one post per month will be just fine. Just make each post a knock-out.
Isn’t there any way to write long posts on a regular basis without a ton of work? Any shortcut?
Ehhhhh, no. There’s no substitute for research and there’s no substitute for passion. To get the ideal combination of research, passion, AND attention to detail, there’s a super good chance you’ll need to hire someone to write. That’s often not cheap, which sucks. But it’s far preferable to spending your own time churning out posts that might not be effective enough to justify your investment.
If you can’t afford to invest your own time and you can’t afford to invest in a professional writing posts for you, there’s a pretty good chance that maintaining your blog isn’t a justifiable investment overall.
Bad Blogging Practice #3: Overly Promotional Posts
Filling an editorial calendar is hard, everybody. It’s a lot of work to research what your target audience wants to read and it’s a whole lot more work to turn those topics into coherent, consistent posts. That’s why many people turn to promotional posts to fill in the gaps.
There’s nothing wrong with promoting your business on your blog. But the problem comes when you do it too much, too overtly.
If every post or even most posts you publish have something to do with some kind of sale you’re putting on or product you’re releasing, that comes off as pretty self-serving.
“So what?” you might retort. “It’s my business’s blog. It exists to promote my business.”
Ah, but what’s the point of a business blog that promotes your business ineffectively?
Consider that according to a 2013 CMO Council survey, 43% of respondents cited “Blatantly promotional and self-serving content” as what they most dislike about business-to-business content.
They didn’t mince words in the conclusion of the survey’s report:
Self-serving and promotional content is turning off buyers and short-circuiting the lead generation and nurturing process.
To explain why this is the case, imagine that you enter a conversation with someone who works for a business. You’d like to hear what they have to say about their industry or maybe you have a specific question they’ve offered to answer. Now imagine that the conversation is unceasingly and overtly advertorial, constantly veering back to why their company’s the best and, oh, have they mentioned all the discounts they can get you? Even if you glean the answers you came for, you’ll walk away feeling slightly slimy because they purported to offer you something but more or less spent the entire talk asking for your patronage. Gross, right?
On top of that, it’s probably a bit difficult to focus on the answers you wanted if everything is skewed in a promotional direction. How seriously would you take a car salesman who explains what a carburetor does — but only between plugs for how their carburetors are the best?
Now imagine that you enter that conversation and the person is polite and knowledgeable and, while confident that their services are the best, doesn’t try to pitch you. Wouldn’t you walk away from that conversation feeling like they were competent and pleasant? Wouldn’t you be more likely to view that person as an authority than as an advertisement?
That’s the goal of good promotion in blog posts. You can demonstrate your know-how and use that very demonstration as a way to promote your business.
Let me set your mind at ease. The occasional post that details an offer or service is perfectly welcome to most readers. But if you’d like to shotgun out deals and news on a regular basis, social media is a really good place to do that.
Overly promotional content on your blog can actively be bad for your image.
It would be better to not promote on your blog at all if you can’t be empathetic to your audience. Learn how much promotion is too much promotion.
How to do it better:
This is easier than you might think. Try to limit your promotional posts so that they’re merely occasional, maybe one post out of 20 or more. And even with glaringly promotional posts, make sure to offer useful information along with your offers. For example, a monthly update of upcoming sales is legitimately useful to your customers.
But aside from posts designed to advertise sales, the best promotion you can do with your blog is much more subtle. Let your blog be that knowledgeable, friendly representative that answers questions. You’ll find that many people will want to have conversations with such a representative and that they’ll be much more likely to think well of your business because of them.
Blogs run by businesses face some unique challenges. Personal blogs can get away with stretching relevance, posting at odd times, and even more outright mistakes. But representing a business requires forethought, research, skill, patience, organization, and commitment. One cannot casually run a business’s blog and expect to reap all those tasty benefits.
Those benefits are worth the effort of maintaining a good blog. You’ll receive more traffic, be acknowledged as an authority in your field, generate goodwill with potential and extant customers, attract partner organizations, promote your business, and more.
But the downside is that there are many ways blogging can go awry and work against you instead of for you, including:
- Erroneous, irrelevant, and typo-laden posts make you look incompetent, sloppy, and out-of-touch.
- Sporadic, short posts can come across as disorganized and inconsistent.
- Overly promotional posts make it clear that your intent is self-serving instead of to be genuinely useful.
The bottom line is this: If you can’t identify what’s useful to your target audience, write well, write consistently, and promote prudently, you shouldn’t blog at all. A bad blog can hobble your business when it should be lifting it to new heights.
So think very hard about whether you want the responsibility of running a blog. Think about if those tasty benefits are worth investing in. If cost is your biggest obstacle, remember that there are ways for your blog to actually help you earn revenue. If time (or skill) is your biggest obstacle, you probably need to find a pro to help you out.
If you decide your business’s website and reputation is worth adding a blog, then godspeed. You’ve got some difficult but rewarding work ahead of you (or at least some hiring to do).
If not, maybe a blog isn’t right for your business, which is just fine. Having no blog at all is sometimes the better option.
Got any stories of a blog gone bad? Any bad practices I missed? Share right here in the comments or come hang out with us on twitter @WTCmarketing or @smittyq14. If you liked this post, feel free to share! We <3 Facebook and Twitter.