How to Find the Best Affiliate Products to Promote On Your Blog

Many bloggers hope to become millionaires from affiliate marketing. This is a realistic goal, but unfortunately few marketers ever reach that dream. A recent survey from last year’s Affiliate Summit found that nearly 40% of affiliate marketers make less than $5,000 a year. One of the largest reasons some affiliates are more successful is that they know how to find the right affiliate products to promote on their blog.

You need to find great products to promote to succeed as an affiliate. Here are some guidelines for finding and vetting affiliate partners.

How Do You Find Products to Promote?

There are plenty of great products that need awesome affiliates like you. Here are some tips to help you find the best affiliate partners.

Check Out Affiliate Networks

There are a number of great affiliate networks that you should look into. Clickbank, Commission Junction, Click Booth, ShareASale and PayDotCom are some of the most popular. You will find thousands of different products on each of these networks. ClickBank is arguably the most popular. Here are some steps for finding a product with it.

Clickbank

Browse Products

The first step is to start looking for products. You can do this by either navigating the categories page or searching by keyword in the search bar. Try using a number of different search terms if you are using the search bar.

Review Products

The products will be listed in the center of the page. You will want to look at the different statistics to get an idea which products are a good fit for your blog. These are the stats that you need to look at:

Easy Video Suite

  • Product price and commission. The listing should list both the amount of money that you can make on a sale and the percentage commission of the total sales price. You will want to also pay close attention to the cost of the product to ensure it is within your readers’ budgets.
  • The gravity weight. This is a measure of the number of affiliates that have earned a commission promoting the product in the last 12 weeks. Most experts recommend promoting products with a gravity weight of 20-100, because they are clearly products that customers are willing to purchase. However, it is a good idea to track the gravity of a product over time, because it can drop sharply if the market is saturated or many dissatisfied customers return it.
  • Average % rebill. This figure tells you how much money you can make off a product if people continue to renew it. Find out what the cost of renewal is to estimate the total commission that you would receive.

You should always check the merchant’s site first to learn more about the product. You don’t want to promote it unless you are confident the product looks useful and the merchant seems credible.

Look for Other Affiliates in Your Niche

You can also find great affiliate products from your competition. Finding other affiliates will require a lot more research. Here are some ways that you can find competitors and start promoting their products. Over half of affiliates promote at least a few products, so you should be able to find a few good products by looking at their sites.

When you find other affiliate sites, you should avoid clicking the links to the merchants. It is better to navigate to the merchant site on your own, because the affiliate may be part of a multiple tier affiliate program which means that you will earn lower referrals if you visit the site through their referral link.

Search for Disclosure Pages

A simple Google search may help you find affiliates. The FTC requires all affiliates to disclose that they are paid commissions for their sales. You may be able to find the disclosure pages for sites on Google.  Here are some search terms you may try:

  • +niche disclosure
  • +niche “affiliate links”
  • +niche “affiliate disclosure”

Not all affiliates living in the United States abide by FTC laws and some are based outside of the U.S. so they may not be required to have such a page. Therefore, you won’t be able to find all of your competitors this way, but it is a good place to start.

Search for Reviews

Many affiliates also write reviews about the products that they promote. You can find their review pages with another simple Google search:

  • +merchant name +review

Once you find the review page, you can start looking at the other pages on the site. You will probably find a number of other affiliate products to promote.

Backlink Analysis on Merchants

You may also want to look at the sites that link to the merchant’s homepage. Many of them will include the affiliates that you are trying to promote. Here are some tools that you may want to use:

  • Analyze Back Links
  • BackLinkWatch
  • OpenSiteExplorer
  • Link Diagnosis

Some of these tools limit the number of backlinks that you can analyze unless you provide a free trial. However, even the free trial can give you a list of a number of great sites worth checking out. You can easily find out which ones are other affiliates.

Look at Individual Companies

You may also want to look at individual companies in your niche. Many of them may have affiliate programs. There are a couple of ways that you can look for them:

  • Conduct a Google search using key terms such as “join our affiliate program +niche”
  • Look at ads in Google. Many companies that purchase Adsense ads also create their own affiliate programs.
  • Email companies in your niche that may be interested in having affiliate programs. Some of them don’t advertise these programs and they are by invitation only. However, they may be inclined to work with you if you have a great niche blog with plenty of traffic.

Contacting companies in your niche will take more work. However, it could open the doors to a number of great programs that your competitors haven’t discovered.

What Should You Look for in an Affiliate Product?

There are tens of thousands of affiliate products and services that you can promote. However, finding products that are worth promoting is a bit more difficult. Every product you promote needs to meet the following characteristics:

Product Meets the Needs of Your Readers

Do you buy products that you don’t serve any purpose? I didn’t think so. Your prospective customers won’t either. You will need to find affiliate products that meet a need.

You need to make sure that any products you promote complement the niche of your blog. Sometimes it is easy to know if the product is a good fit for your site. Any affiliate worth his salt knows there is no point trying to promote a lawnmower on a dieting site.

However, there are times when it is a bit harder to tell. Your blog may have evolved into something that is much different than what you envisioned it. One blogger I know once created a blog for young entrepreneurs but eventually changed the theme to writing tips. He made the change because his readers expressed that they were much more interested in learning to write than starting a new venture. He wouldn’t have been able to promote startup resources to them even though that is what he initially intended.

Unfortunately, I can’t give you any surefire tips for choosing affiliate products that your readers will want. You are the only one that knows the people that read your blog. The best advice I can give is to engage with them to learn what types of things they are interested in. You don’t want to ask them what products you should try selling to them, but you can figure out what makes them tick and what needs they need to meet.

Merchant Seems Trustworthy

People are very skeptical about products that they buy online. They are also skeptical of affiliate marketers. You will need to make sure that you only promote products that are promoted by honest merchants. The product needs to deliver on its promises or people won’t purchase it.

This is a very important point to keep in mind. Your credibility as a blogger is at stake. If you promote products that turn out to be garbage then your readers will stop trusting you. I would recommend the following:

  • Look for testimonials from previous customers. Make sure the testimonials look like they are written by real customers.
  • Do a quick Google search to see if anyone has complained about the product.
  • Consider buying a copy of the product and give it a try yourself. I started off doing affiliate marketing by promoting products that I had already tried, because I knew other buyers would be just as satisfied with them as me.

Unfortunately, if there are too many reviews then it may mean the market may be saturated and you may be entering too late in the game. However, it is safest to look for products that have some positive reviews before attaching your reputation to them.

It can be harder to tell if a new product meets these criteria if many customers haven’t purchased it yet. You might want to find out if the merchant has created any other products in the past. If they created great products in the past then the new product may be good too. However, you should probably pass on the product if nobody has purchased the product before or heard of the merchant.

Stop Blogging in a Vacuum: How to Increase Engagement

Blogging Alone

You know those motivational posters your middle school teachers had plastered all over their classrooms? The ones that featured a set of whales leaping out of the ocean with the caption, “TEAMWORK” and included a little quote that was supposed to convince you not to hate all your group-work assignments?

These made easy targets for the parody “demotivational” posters that have long been popular as chain email fodder. While most of them were clearly made by individuals who have a sense of humor that got stuck in the 7th grade, there’s one I’ve seen that, as a blogger, made me stop and think. The picture is of two people on a desert ledge, dwarfed by the landscape. The caption says, “BLOGGING: Never before have so many people with so little to say said so much to so few.”

The reason this got my attention is because the caption is, unfortunately, based on a kernel of truth. It’s wonderful that anyone with an idea and an Internet connection can fire up their own blog and start producing posts. It’s not so wonderful that so many of us who want to run a blog don’t have any direction, knowledge on best practices, or understanding of how to translate thoughts into engaging posts. Too many bloggers out there are lacking killer content and the knowledge of how to share that content properly with the world. As a result, they’re lacking readership and engagement is nonexistent. They’re also adding to the noise and making it harder for readers to find and engage with great blogs

This is a problem, because I believe each of us does have something to say. You do possess something that you can share via your blog will add value to a reader’s day. We simply need to uncover exactly what that is. Offering something of value to the world will be the foundation to your well-read blog that attracts readers and builds engagement within your community of followers and connections.

Don’t be the blogger who has nothing of real substance to discuss, and who is projecting their posts out into that desert canyon where the only response they get is the sound of their own voice echoing back at them. It’s time to stop blogging in a vacuum, learn how to create content that an audience wants, and increase your engagement to grow your tribe.

Increase Engagement by Offering Value to Build Loyal Followers

Before we even dive into what good content looks like or how to draw more eyeballs to that content, you need to identify what it is you have to say that other people want to hear about, learn about, or talk about. People want to come to your blog and engage with your content when you have something to offer them. When you offer value, you build readership, and when you build readership, you can build engagement.

This might sound intimidating, but the value you offer to others can be anything – really! – so long as you are:

  1. Passionate
  2. Articulate
  3. Respectful of what the audience wants. It’s about your readers, not you.

That last point is extremely important. You want to empathize with your readers, show you understand their wants and needs, and provide something for them. This could be information, knowledge, a solution, or even an idea or image that provides happiness or inspiration. This doesn’t have to be complicated – keep in mind that at its most fundamental, what you provide should either take away someone’s pain, stress, or confusion, or add to their happiness, knowledge base, or quality of life in some way.

It’s Not Your Topic, It’s Your Presentation

Let’s look an example to provide some more clarity on how to offer value. Say you are passionate about your pet cat. You love talking about your cat, sharing cute pictures or funny videos, and telling stories about what your furry friend does and why. So, you blog all about your cat and (unsurprisingly), you’ve found you’re blogging in a vacuum. You have all this fun content about you and your cat, but you’re blogging into empty space.

What’s the problem here? If you said, “no one wants to read about your stupid cat,” you’re wrong. It’s not that no one wants to read about someone else’s cat. There is absolutely nothing wrong with the topic of “my cat.” This is a niche millions of people around the world can relate to, and want to read about because they’re passionate about cats, too. What is wrong is that there is no value being offered. The problem is that in this example, this blog is presented in a way where the content serves the blogger and not the reader.

So what can be done to change this? Remember, you want to either take away bad things like stress or add to good things like enjoyment. Solve a problem or increase happiness. Our cat blogger can offer value and increase engagement by creating posts like “Why Your Cat Scratches Your Couch and What To Do About It,” “7 Signs Your Cat Needs More Attention – and How to Provide It”, or “Top 10 Cute Cat Moments Around the World from 2013.”

Now the blog has begun to serve the reader instead of the blogger. With each of these post ideas, the blogger can include pictures of their own cat and share personal stories to illustrate widespread problems or universal reasons to feel joy amongst cat owners. Readers can now relate to the content, because it’s offering to solve one of their problems or it was created for their enjoyment. The audience can engage now; the blog is all about them and they want to take part in the discussion

Value Isn’t Without Personality

Focusing on providing value doesn’t mean your blog has to be divorced from what interests you. It simply needs to be packaged and delivered in a way that makes it all about the reader. As you saw with our cat blogger example, the blogger didn’t need to stop sharing stories, pictures, or information about their cat. They simply needed to incorporate these elements into posts that served the needs and wants of the people visiting the blog.

You can do the same. Your blog should offer something of value, but it shouldn’t be void of your opinions, thoughts, and interests. These are elements of what makes a blog stand out and be heard over the noise of people who have nothing to say yet publish post after post of boring fluff. Your individual, unique voice is what will help draw readers in. The value you offer them encourages them to not only come back for more but also to share with others.

If you remember, the number one thing you needed to turn your idea into valuable content for your following is passion. You should be passionate about your topics or the niche you’re in. What you should not do is ignore the people you’re relying on to engage with you and eventually become loyal members of your tribe.

Creating Engaging Content

Once you establish what it is that you can offer your followers that they will find valuable, you need to actually round up those followers and convince them to join your tribe. Yes, having an SEO strategy will help you rank better in search engine traffic and this is an important component to getting your blog seen by others. But there is something else you should be doing that is actually much more crucial to increasing engagement. If you consistently publish high-quality, thoughtful, valuable content that promotes discussion and keep that going long enough, you will develop a loyal base of followers that love you and your blog and will be happy to join your community and promote what you’re doing to others.

If you are lacking incredible content that fails to engage the people that visit your blog, you’ll never gain a foothold in your niche. Throwing a jumble of your thoughts into a post and calling it a day is, unfortunately, not going to be good enough if you want your blog to engage and retain an audience that consists of more people than just your mom.

To create content that increases engagement, your post needs to meet the following criteria:

  • The post should be empathetic; it needs to acknowledge what readers want or need.
  • The post should be helpful; it needs to provide the information required for readers to obtain what they want or need.
  • The post should always provide value in some way; it should solve a problem, offer a solution, allow readers to build knowledge, or serve as a source of joy.
  • The post should be written in your own, unique tone and voice; this is what hooks a reader, encourages them to engage by joining the discussion or sharing your content, and gets them coming back for more (a good rule of thumb: write like you talk).
  • The post should be relevant; it needs to somehow connect with your chosen blog topic or niche.
  • The post should end with a call to action to encourage engagement; ask readers a question and invite them to post responses and opinions in the comments or provide an awesome quote and turn it into a click-to-tweet link.

If your posts adheres to these guidelines, you’ve likely got a thought-provoking, interesting piece of content ready to be published. This is an incredible step forward, but your work isn’t quite done.

You need to provide your audience with an easy way to join in the discussion and to quickly and painlessly share your blog posts. Ensure you have a simple, functional comment form in place so that readers can add their thoughts to the post and engage with other members of the community. Don’t make your readers jump through too many hoops to prove they aren’t spammers; this is what good spam-blocking plugins should do for you.

Additionally, provide social media sharing buttons for your readers so they can easily click on the platform of their choice and hit “share now.” Again, these buttons should be simple and functional. Don’t shoot yourself in the foot at the finish line by making sharing buttons tiny (or obnoxiously everywhere) or hard to find. Remember, you want to make engagement as easy as possible for anyone wanting to connect with your blog in some way. Confused minds don’t buy – and frustrated users don’t bother wasting time trying to figure out how to leave a simple comment. They certainly won’t do you the favor of sharing your content if you make it difficult for them to do so.

Put It All Together and Replace Empty Space with A Vast Readership

By putting the above information and advice into practice, it’s extremely likely that you’ll be able to stop blogging in a vacuum and start sharing content with your own dedicated audience. Taking these steps will make your blog a more accessible, thoughtful, and pleasing space for others. You have something to say, so ensure you have an audience to say it to and a tribe that wants to engage with what you’ve provided for them. If you offer value, produce excellent content, and make it easy for others to engage in a variety of ways, it’s a guarantee that will not only increase your readership but also increase engagement for your blog.

How to Get Out of a Blogging Rut When You Are Feeling Stuck

Anyone who writes a blog for an extended period of time hits a point where they feel as though they’ve run out of words (or a blogging rut).  We work so hard to create engaging content and build an audience.  We gain the audience, they’re excited for each post and hungry for more. Then, suddenly, the word flow runs dry.  Panic time!

Actually, you don’t need to panic.  You need to take a deep breath.

According to WordPress, I’ve posted over 2100 times on my blog on the writing life, Ink in My Coffee .  I blog most weekdays, and have for nearly a decade.  Ruts exist — but you can overcome them.

Freelance writer and veteran blogger Lori Widmer, of Words on the Page suggests, “Whenever I’m finding myself in a rut, I cut down on the number of blog entries I post in a week.  Also, I draw from current situations.  An example this week is when a client and I didn’t mesh.  I found a teachable moment in that circumstance.”

Adds Erica Rodefer, of the long-running, excellent blog Spoiled Yogi, says, “Of course I get into ruts!  Sometimes I find ideas by browsing other blogs or scrolling through my social media feeds.  But the best thing I’ve found I can do when I feel uninspired is to step away from the computer!  I go outside to take a walk, call a friend, get on my yoga mat, or meditate and do something (anything!) that will take my mind off of it for awhile.  Often I’ll get an idea while I’m doing something completely unrelated–and if not, when I come back to it with fresh eyes things make more sense.”

I tend to push through, but there are times when I walk on the beach, get back on the yoga mat, and I’m known to have many of my best ideas in the shower.

What is the focus of your blog?

Most blogs are created to deal with something specific — writing, food, politics, someone’s unique personal view of the world.  Our lives grow and change, our professions grow and change.  Our blogs need to grow and change with us.

The focus with which you started may change over time.  Do you still want to write about this topic?  Or is it time to move to something else?  Is it time to start an additional blog on the other topic while keeping the current one?  Or should you wind down the current blog and start a new one?

That’s an individual decision, and you need to make the decision that best serves your vision.  However, if you decide to stop writing a blog, break the news gently and honestly to your readership.  Don’t just say, “I don’t have time to blog” — which is a slap in the face to your readers.  They MAKE time to read your words; if you tell them you “don’t have time”, you tell them that they are not WORTH the time it takes for you to write the blog.  It’s an insult, and most readers will realize it as such.  Now, you’ve lost them forever.

If, however, you tell them that you feel like you’ve said all you have to say about this topic and are either taking a break or writing about a new topic (inviting them to join you), you are considerate of the time they’ve invested in you, while still being true to your needs.  It’s a thoughtful and diplomatic way to bring about positive change.

Hang gliding

Try Something New

If you’re writing about the same topic in the same way, over and over, maybe it’s time to write about something new.  If you write a gardening blog, try growing something a little different.  Prove the “experts” wrong, through you care and nurture of an unusual plant (as long as it’s non-invasive and won’t hurt the local eco-system).  Interview the owner of a gardening center.  Take a field trip to a botanical garden and write about it.  If you write a food blog, write about a new restaurant or take a class out of your wheelhouse and share your experiences.

I admit it — I sometimes force myself out the door to go and do something so I have something to write about.  But, once I’m OUT the door and DOING — I have a terrific time, and creative ideas for articles, stories, and scripts beyond the blog posts flow.

“I keep a running list of ideas,” said Erica Rodefer.  “I add to the list anytime I get a new idea, no matter how silly it seems at the time.  That way when it’s time to write, I have a few different avenues I could explore.”

Reassess

Are you writing only for yourself or only for your audience?  The best blogs do both — they serve the writer’s vision, while conveying information that’s both useful and entertaining to the audience.

Erica Rodefer agrees.   “It’s always helpful to reassess what you’re writing and why,” she says.  “It’s important to me that the things I’m putting out there are relevant to the people who read my blogs — because if I’m just venting about my personal feelings I might as well keep a private journal instead. So, yes, I look to see what people are responding to most, what Google searches bring them to my page, and I try to create as much content as I can around those topics.”

To Vent, or not to Vent?

Wise words from Erica, above.  I still keep a personal, handwritten journal, where I can do my venting.  I do vent publicly on particular issues, especially when they have political and social relevance tied into my writing.  I don’t believe in “going along to get along.”  I’m a big believer in taking action against injustice.

However, in a case where I read a book and it doesn’t work for me AT ALL — I don’t vent about it on the blog and trash the writer.  I know how much it takes to write a book.  If I’m a paid reviewer for a publication, I will be honest, but I will not trash a colleague on my blog, even if that particular outing doesn’t work for me.  It’s a challenging balance.

Remember to Have Fun

Blogging is a way to share passions.  What fascinates you?  What intrigues you?  What makes you excited to get out of bed every morning?  Ultimately, if you’re passionate about and dedicated to a topic, you can engage your audience.

Blog Security 101 – Part 1

Blog and lock

There is no doubt that WordPress is the most popular web application for building a presence on the Internet. Currently, there are over 74 million web sites using WordPress and that number makes up a staggering 18.9 percent of all web sites on the Internet. But being so popular has a price; when the bad guys know that so many people use your software it becomes a target. Add to the mix the fact that your application is so easy to use that people without a great deal of technical knowledge can operate it and you start to make malicious hackers salivate; just ask Microsoft.

According to research conducted by the security firm Sophos, 73 percent of WordPress installations are found to be vulnerable to attack. This means that the application has not been hardened by the site’s owner to the point where an attacker could not break into the site by exploiting any known vulnerabilities.

If those facts have you worried take a deep breath and relax. We’re going to show you some ways that you can better secure your blog against malicious hackers and make it difficult enough that most attackers will move on to an easier target and leave your site alone.

The very basics

If we are going to look at security from the ground up it is important to understand some of the terminology that is thrown around. The word hacker is used outside of the security industry to describe the bad guys who are trying to compromise your blog. The pros, on the other hand, opt for the terms threat actor, criminal or attacker; most of them despise the term cybercriminal. A breach is when a threat actor successfully breaks into your system, in this case your blog, and this is done by exploiting a vulnerability.

Most of the time, we think of the attacker as someone who is trying to break into our site so they can steal financial information like credit card numbers or usernames and passwords. These are common targets of the threat actor, but they are not the only reasons why they might target your blog.

Blogs are targeted by some attackers to help other sites rank better in the search engine results. A blog is breached and the attacker injects links to another web site in the comment section or even in the posts themselves. These links might not be easy to spot since they can easily code out the text-decoration and change the color of the anchor text. These links can harm the reputation of breached site since they often point to low-quality sites, web sites that promote illegal or illicit activities or sites that host malware. Which brings us to another reason why WordPress sites are often targeted.

One of the most common reasons why a site might be attacked is so that the criminal behind the attack can upload malware to the targeted site. When this happens the malware can be used to exploit vulnerabilities in the web browsers of the site’s visitors. Malware is then loaded onto the visitor’s computer just because they went to a blog, and it might even be a blog that they trust. Sites that are guilty of this are flagged by search engines like Google and are usually removed from the results costing the site a great deal of traffic and causing a great deal of damage to that site’s reputation.

The last type of attack we will mention here is known as a Denial of Service attack. This occurs when the attacker knocks a site offline so that legitimate visitors cannot access it. Usually this is done by flooding the server with enough traffic and requests that the web server that hosts the site just gives up. Attackers use other people’s computers to do this; the ones that have been infected by malware and taken over or they use other technologies. These attacks can come at the hands of a hacktivist, or someone who is trying to take the site down for political or social means; a competing business or web site; and sometimes these attacks come from a young threat actor who is trying to hone their skills.

How they get in

We mentioned vulnerabilities earlier as the way attackers breach a blog. These vulnerabilities can come from a number of places:

  • The WordPress code itself
  • A plugin
  • A template
  • Brute force attacks
  • The user

WordPress itself is a software application and at times, people find holes in the code. Many times, it is the wp-config file or the wp-includes folder that are targeted. When these holes are found, the people who maintain WordPress work to patch it so that the hole is no longer a vulnerability. This is one reason why WordPress is updated and the most important reason to make sure that you are always running the most current version of WordPress on your site.

Plugins present the same problem; they consist of code and can have holes in them that allow attackers in. For this reason, you should be careful about what plugins you install on your site and you should make certain to remove any plugins that are not being used. Plugins have also been known to have exploits written into them with the purpose of giving attackers access to any site installs and activates them. This is not a common scenario, but it has happened. The best way to avoid this is to install plugins from the WordPress Plugin Directory. This is much safer than downloading the plugin from another site to install as WordPress monitors the plugins in their directory.

Likewise, templates have been known to house security holes as well. Those inactive themes that are sitting in the themes directory and haven’t been updated since you installed them could be just the thing an attacker is looking for. There have also been themes that contained malicious code in them that can be used for nefarious things.

Brute force attacks are another common method used to breach WordPress blogs. An automated system seeks out blogs running the WordPress application and then goes to work trying to guess the password for the admin username. Since most blogs keep the admin account active, and with administrative rights, the attack need only guess the password. This isn’t too hard for a program that can guess hundreds of thousands of passwords a minute when you consider most passwords are ridiculously simple.

The final vulnerability we will look at here is the user. It was mentioned previously that there are sites out there that exploit holes in a web browser and install malware on the computer of a person who visited that site. Malware can also be installed through phishing attacks that contain malicious attachments and even through older methods like file sharing. Malware can do a number of bad things on a computer, and one of these things is they can capture keystrokes on a computer. Translate this into the attacker can see that a person is logging into a WordPress site and can steal the URL, the username and the password. This is just one more reason why you should run up-to-date anti-virus software on your computer especially if you use that computer to access your blog.

Fighting back

A majority of attacks against WordPress sites happen because they are considered low hanging fruit by the attacker; meaning they are easy to breach. Many of these attacks are so simple for the bad guys that they are automated and the attacker never has to do more than let a few programs run to compromise thousands of WordPress sites.

While no WordPress site, or any other computer system, will ever be 100 percent secured against attacks you can make it more difficult for any attacker who targets your site. If you have done a good enough job at hardening your site, they might move on to an easier target. If they are intent on breaching your site, and they are able to successfully do so, you goal will be to identify the breach and clean up your site as soon as possible.

To help you better secure your blog, we have part two of this series coming soon. In the follow up post we will look at plugins, code hacks and other things you can do that will harden your blog against a majority of the common attacks out there.

4 Reasons Your Small Business Needs a Blog

Unless your new business venture involves a branch campus of the Illuminati, you probably want your small business to get noticed. So what do you do? Set up your business in a high-traffic area? Great. Get a big sign? Fantastic.  Set up your website and social media sites? Even better.

While many small businesses consider this a great place to stop, they don’t realize that they are actually missing a very crucial element.

According to a recent study done by GE Capital Retail Bank, 81% of consumers will engage in online research before making a major purchase, a number that is up by 20% from 2012.

This means two things for you, the small business owner. First, you need people to find your company amidst their research. Second, they need to like what they see. But how do you do that? How do you differentiate yourself from other companies that are in a similar field and make your business more visible?

Thankfully, the answer is not as elusive as it may feel, and doesn’t involve spending copious amounts of marketing cash or hiring a pothead teenager to spin your sign on a street corner. Simply put, start a blog.

Not the answer you were expecting (or wanting)? Before you begin throwing rotten cabbage at me, please consider a few things. As much as we enjoy Mad Men, marketing has taken a dramatic shift in the 21st Century. Our means of connection and interaction have moved to the digital universe, and thus, we need to meet our customers there.

If you are aspiring to grow your small business and beat out the competition, blogging is a non-negotiable. Below are 4 reasons your small business needs a blog… right away.

1. Search Engines Will Love You

Teenage romance movies seem to be all the rage these days. If you have seen any of these movies, you notice a trend. Though the themes may change (vampires, sports, inner-city life), the plot basically stays the same:

  • We are introduced to a socially-outcast girl at a local high school
  • We also meet a handsome boy (often a jock) at the same high school
  • Socially-outcast girl makes a reference to an upcoming prom and how she plans on not attending
  • Due to some unforeseen incident, the boy and girl have to partner together in a class
  • Both hate each other and frown upon the others social identity
  •  Through shared experiences and time together, they soften toward one another
  • At the night of the big dance, socially-outcast girl shows up without glasses and in a beautiful dress
  • Boy realizes that he loves her, renounces his prom king award, cheerleader girlfriend and Princeton scholarship (that dad forced on him) and confesses his affections to her

If Google is the handsome jock, then your small business needs to be the prettiest girl at the dance, and blogging will help get it there!

Search engines love fresh content. As you add new and regular content to your website, search engines will begin to move you higher on their results page. Is your website regularly getting new content or is it stale? If you want to be seen you need new (and regular) content!

Your blog is the easiest and most effective way to regularly add content to your website. This isn’t a ‘one and done’ exercise. You need to be consistent with your posting. It may feel daunting, but your business will thank you for it.

Don’t make your clients wade through 12 pages of ‘search results’ to find you!

2. Potential Customers Have More Opportunity to Find You

When your company begins to embraces blogging, not only will customers be able to find you more easily, they will also be able to find you more often. The reason is simple: diversification.

When you regularly post to your company’s blog, you are creating another opportunity for potential customers to come across your website. The reason is twofold:

  • More Posts = More Search Engine Results

Let’s say that you run an independent insurance company and recently set up a website. At that point, your only hope of being found online is if a customer Google’s “insurance company [your city]”.

However, if your company is also embraces blogging, you make yourself more available. A certain customer may have never  heard of your insurance company, but when they Google “Should I use an independent insurance agent” they will likely find an article about that subject… written on your website. Why? Because you are blogging about your business and industry. In an instant, you went from an unknown company to an entity that is educating someone as to why they should use your services.

  • More Posts = More Social Media Exposure

On top of search engine results, regular blogging will also give you a stage on various social media sites.

How?

One of the keys of good marketing is networking. If you want to see more success in your business, you need to connect with other people that will help your company grow. Since the rise of social media, this has never been easier.

As your company begins to take advantage of blogging, it would benefit your company to show its blog posts on your social media sites.

Not only does your network of peers get to see your work, but they may also share your post with others who may be interested as well. Going back to the 81% of people who do online research before purchases, testimonials and personal endorsements via “sharing” a post goes a long way.

Additionally, your blog can even begin to collect a following of readers and subscribers. This will drive regular traffic to your website via dedicated followers.

3. You Establish Expertise

Here’s some truth: In order to be trusted by the public, your business needs to prove itself. And that’s fair. You may know that you are one of the best in your field, but that doesn’t mean much to the consumer. If you want the public to give you their business, you need to show them why.

Can you guess what the remedy might be? Yep, blogging!

Blogging is one of the best platforms you have as you seek to display your expertise. Write about your industry, whether it is current events, ‘how-to’s’, tutorials, helpful advice or things of the like. And do it often. Show your customers that you are well versed in your field.

But be careful. If you’re attempting to build your credibility and expertise (which you should), make sure that you are giving correct information. Your credibility can take a huge hit if you are known to supply shoddy work. Remember, trust is hard to gain and easy to lose.

4. A Blog Gives Your Business a “Personality”

Not only will a blog help get your company noticed, it can also help put your customers at ease. For many people who fear the unknown, even walking into an unfamiliar business can be anxiety-provoking. What can you do to help?

Keeping a regularly updated blog can help to set a tone for your business that will benefit customers. As you blog about current events happening in your store and in your industry, as well as ‘how-to’s’ and other relevant topics, do not be afraid to infuse some personality. Not only does this make good writing, it also helps your customers feel comfortable with you and your company.

Moving Forward

The idea of starting a company blog can feel daunting; that is understandable. Amidst all of the other work you have to put into your business, writing a blog can feel like a hassle. But the truth is, you can’t afford not to blog. If you are seeking to be found and noticed on the internet, a blog is necessary.

If you really feel like you do not have time to blog, hope is not lost! There are still avenues you can take to have a thriving blog:

  • Delegate writing responsibilities to a trusted employee
  • If your budget allows, hire a freelance writer(s)
  • Consider posting on a regular, but less frequent, basis (2-4 times a month)

So if you’re ready, take the plunge today and start your business blog! We want to hear your feedback. How has your small business benefited from blogging? Please leave a comment and share your experience with us!

9 Content Strategy Ideas for New Bloggers

You’ve registered your domain, found a great blog theme, assembled your plugins, and read up on SEO. Now the nuts and bolts of your new blog are in place, so it’s time for the fun to begin. Writing content!

So, what’s your blog content strategy? You do have one, don’t you?

A good content strategy can be nothing more than a hastily scribbled list of topics that sit on your desk. But if you’re willing to invest a little extra time on a great blog content strategy, you can avoid getting stuck in idle when you’re out of ideas and reach lots of people with your content. You’ll also be able to pivot quickly when timely blog topics crop up that you want to tackle immediately.

A killer blog content strategy is really a two-pronged approach. You need methods for consistently creating compelling content and ways to get it in front of peoples’ eyeballs. Here are some proven content strategy ideas for new bloggers to get the job done, along with some ideas you might not have considered.

Content is king (and queen, and the whole royal court)

One of the scariest things about blogging is the fear you’ll run out of ideas. It happens to all bloggers at some point, so the key is to have a content strategy in place that keeps your blog running smoothly even if you’re not firing on all cylinders. Let’s take a look at some ways generate content ideas.

1. Answer questions. Q & A websites like Yahoo, Quora, and Google Discussions are veritable gold mines of ideas. Some of the best blog posts out there help people answer questions and solve problems, so find out what people want to know. For example, if your blog is focused on horse racing, Quora can tell you what kinds of questions people are asking so you can answer them on your blog.

quora

2. Round ups. Round up posts that pull in timely information from a variety of sources are beneficial in two ways. First, they give your readers multiple viewpoints of the same topic. Second, they’re great for getting on the radar of bloggers you’d like to connect with. A blog post titled, “What the 7 Best Sports Commentators Are Saying About the Sochi 2014 Olympics” grabs the attention of readers who are glad you culled the information. There’s also a good chance the commentators your mention and link to will happily share your content because, hey, who doesn’t like to be on a “best of” list?

3. Guest posts. One reason networking on social media platforms is so important is that it gives you an opportunity to connect with other bloggers in your industry. We’ll get into the importance of setting up social media accounts in a minute, but once you’re established and sharing your content across these networks, be sure to cultivate friendships with others for possible guest posting down the road. It’s a great strategy for writers to get new readers fresh eyes on their work.

3. Infographics. Sometimes delivering hard data via eye-catching graphics can turn a dry blog post into a quick and easy read for the information overloaded. Imagine a long blog post describing the nuanced differences in popular fonts. Are there even enough adjectives in the world to explain fonts with that level of detail? Now have a look at an infographic web designer Rylee Blake put together.

RyleeBlake infographic

You don’t have to be a web design pro to create an infographic on your own. Try a free online service like Piktochart or infogr.am to create a clever image with interesting information.

4. Video. Once in a while even the most prolific blogger should step away from the keyboard and create a video blog post, or, vlog. Of course, you’ll want to experiment with video content to see if it’s something your readers find useful before committing to a long string of videos. While consumable video content may not be right for every blog, it’s a natural fit for others. No one wants to watch a talking head drone into the camera for 20 minutes, so a good rule of thumb is to rely on vlogging for action-oriented content like a walking tour of local craft beer breweries or a how-to on using power saw without losing a finger.

5. Polls/Surveys. Everyone likes to share their opinion so polls and surveys are a treasure trove of information that can often generate multiple blog topics. Use a free polling site like Survey Monkey to poll your readers on questions related to your blog content and use their responses to come up with content and ideas for future posts.

6. Social media networks. As you begin strategizing topic ideas, be sure to secure accounts at The Big Three social media services: Twitter, Facebook, and Google+. If your blog content is valuable to industry professionals, also consider setting up a LinkedIn account. Social networks are a terrific method for sparking ideas based around trending topics and for finding out what people are talking about right now.

7. RSS feed. Save yourself some time and sanity by filling an RSS feed reader with blogs and websites that are relevant to the topic you’re writing about. You’ll be checking these sites frequently so scanning a neatly filtered feed is much easier than opening 36 bookmarked tabs in your browser. As an added bonus, many RSS readers let you favorite, star, tag, or otherwise annotate posts so you can quickly find them again later.

8. Google Alerts. If RSS feeds are a long, leisurely walk you take while developing blog content ideas, Google Alerts are a quick run into the convenience store to grab something off the shelf before it’s gone. Depending on the type of content you’re creating, writing about rapidly trending topics around the internet can make or break the success of your blog. Going back to our Olympics analogy for a moment, few people want to read about who won gold medals five weeks after the event is over. That kind of content must be published as it happens or it stands little chance of ever being seen. Google Alerts keeps you informed in near-real time whenever your choice of keywords or topics are mentioned around the internet so you can whip up a post right away.

Bonus tip

9. Set up an editorial calendar. Once you begin collecting blog topics, assemble them into a loose schedule using an editorial calendar. This can be as elaborate or as bare-bones as you prefer; Google Calendar is a good place to start. As your blog topics begin to gel, an editorial calendar helps keep you on track and shows you at a glance what can be moved around to accommodate timely ideas you come across via Google Alerts, available times to schedule guest posts, and so on.

I can’t promise you that you’ll never draw a blank on what to write about because it happens to every blogger eventually. But a good content strategy keeps you on track and keeps those ideas flowing even when you think there’s nothing left to say — because there’s always something to say.