Before you say that's old hat, let me clarify. Blogging shouldn't be the sporadically updated, self-serving promotion broadcast channel that many retailers, including a few of my clients, create. Rather I suggest creating product-related content that leverages the strength of your firm's expertise. You can use your blog posts to provide useful solutions for consumers as part of an integrated social media marketing strategy to extend your reach and provide engagement that results in sales.
While not as sexy as other social media formats, blogging can effectively utilize text, photographs, video, audio, and PDFs to fuel other social media interactions, most notably Twitter and social bookmarking. By using other communication channels, such as RSS and e-mail, to distribute blog content, you can extend your reach. To be effective, blogging requires ongoing work, commitment, and time to yield benefits.
Five Ways to Create Blog Content
Develop a blog content strategy and integrated it into your marketing plans and business goals to ensure that it drives sales. Include these five actions:
Choose words and topics important to your business and consumers when developing content. They should be consistent with your organic and paid search strategies. At the Interactive Advertising Bureau's Marketplace: Social Media, Associated Content's Patrick Keane discussed tracking which posts performed well and which words and topics received the most traffic, both short term and long term. To support search's long tail, create evergreen content that doesn't change from year to year. For example, "13 Items Your Family Needs for Camping Safety" for a camping supplier.
Plan an editorial calendar to aid ongoing content development in addition to timely posts. Think like a magazine editor. Consider how often posts will be made and what regular columns could be, such as "Winning Recipe Wednesdays" for a cookware supplier. Create information that consumers need, find useful, fun to read, and worth passing along. Blogging isn't a product-push medium. While products can be integrated into the posts and you can link to your site, the goal is to expand product-related content and increase internal linking.
Develop content to coordinate with your promotional calendar and consumer needs. Remember, blogs allow you to react quickly to dynamic environmental factors cost effectively.
Consider who will create the content since this individual provides your blog's public face and human voice. Outline a policy for what's acceptable and unacceptable to post.
Track traffic to show which topics interest your customers most, which posts get tweeted on Twitter, and which content drives sales, both short term and over time.
Six Ways to Spread Blog Content
To drive traffic, blogs must be merchandised. While a special blog marketing budget can extend your reach, you can effectively leverage your ongoing marketing to drive usage. Here are six ways:
Integrate the blog into your Web site to aid search optimization and add links to your blog from product pages.
Promote your blog in your ongoing marketing collateral, both online and off-, by including useful blog content and links to your blog.
Expand your blog's reach by creating link-bait (define) posts such as "27 Ways to Create Lasting Wedding Memories" for a photography or scrapbooking site. Include social bookmarking and tweeting functionality on your blog. Track linkbacks (define), tweets, and social bookmarking results.
Ask well-known bloggers to guest-post on your blog. Reciprocate by driving traffic to relevant bloggers with references and links.
Interact with readers by commenting on and responding to their questions and comments.
Participate in relevant social networks such as Twitter. For example, create a post of the day that gives consumers useful information, such as "Beauty Tip of the Day" for a skin-care brand.
Four Ways to Leverage Third-Party Blogs
It's critical for an organization to respect blogs as a news source and community forum. While this sounds trite, it's at the core of blog-related social media interactions. Here are four ways to engage third-party blogs:
Find blogs that discuss areas touching your business and read them regularly. Determine who the influential bloggers are in your niches. Take the hot topics from these forums, quote them with a link, and use them in your blog.
Engage bloggers by commenting on their blogs and contributing useful information.
Write guest posts on influential blogs to give back to the community, not toot your company's horn.
Create a blogger outreach program to build relationships with third-party bloggers and their readers. Give bloggers useful content and sample products to review. Understand that some bloggers, including the BlogHer network, have editorial standards, including specific guidelines outlining context and disclosure for commerce-related content.
Measure Blog Results
From a metrics perspective, using a blog in this manner is more than just tracking how many customers read your content:
Engagement. How engaged your customers are can be tracked via the number of comments and amount of time spent on your blog.
Search results. Have you seen improvements in your organic search results attributable to the blog content? Do you show up higher in results for key terms? Do you show up for a wider array of terms? Also, monitor the increase in the number of inbound links.
Positioning. Within your niche, has the blog helped position your firm as a source of information? This can be measured in terms of inbound links, tweets of your posts, or requests to participate in offline activities.
Sales. Track traffic to product pages and revenues that are attributable to blog postings. Remember that blogging helps support every phase of the purchase process.
Costs. While blogging is a cost-effective strategy, like every other form of social media, it requires an investment of your time and participation, as well as time to produce results.
Blogging is commitment marketing. It's an ongoing content and communication strategy that requires care and feeding. You can't just post one or two times a week and hope that it will work.
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Heidi Cohen is the President of Riverside Marketing Strategies, an interactive marketing consultancy. She has over 20 years' experience helping clients increase profitability by developing innovative marketing programs to acquire and retain customers based on solid analytics. Clients include New York Times Digital, AccuWeather.com, CheapTickets, and the UJA. Additionally, Riverside Marketing Strategies has worked with numerous other online content/media companies and e-tailers.
Prior to starting Riverside Marketing Strategies, Heidi held a number of senior-level marketing positions at The Economist, the Bookspan/Doubleday Direct division of Bertelsmann, and Citibank.