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Lessons I’ve Learned From Six Years of Blogging

When I created Bloom Spokane—a grassroots nonprofit organization that empowers pregnant and postpartum women with information, resources, and support—it was 2009 and blogs had starting popping up everywhere. Most blogs at the time were personal endeavors, but I could see they were quickly becoming valuable tools for sharing information online. It wouldn’t be long before businesses and nonprofits jumped on board.

Back then, I didn’t know the first thing about blogging, but that didn’t stop me from diving in. It has been a process of trial and error, learning from mistakes, and being pleasantly surprised at some of our successes along the way. I am lucky to have found a team of co-leaders and volunteers for Bloom Spokane who are passionate about our mission and eagerly embraced blogging. Along with analytics analysis and guidance from my husband, Ed Reese, we have figured out a few things over the years that have contributed to our success.

“Blogging is Harrrrrd!”

When Ed speaks at search conferences with his friends from LocalU, he often uses Bloom Spokane’s website analytics to show how our blogging has progressed over time. As he likes to say, “Blogging is harrrrrd!”

Bogging is Hard!

Consistently publishing original, relevant, and desired content is demanding work. It is often fun, but it is still work. We have seen our greatest gains in traffic and conversions during the phases when we’ve had a strategic plan, a publishing schedule, and a solid blogging team in place.

Have a Plan

I didn’t have a plan when I started blogging, but in less than a year I’d learned enough to begin putting one together.

  • Goals: Why are you blogging? Most bloggers have 1 of 3 aims: generating revenue, building a following, or hobby writing. Ours was building a following.
  • Audience: Who is your target audience? What problems are you solving for them?
  • Topics: What will you post about?
  • Schedule: How often will you post?
  • Call to Action: What action do you want readers to take? Make it desirable and easy for them to take those actions on your blog.
  • Competition: Who is your competition? What are their strengths and weaknesses? What niche can you fill that isn’t being touched, or done well, by anyone else?
  • Success Metrics: Define the outcomes that will be used to measure success.

Have a Blogging Team

Business blogging is usually too much to take on by yourself, unless you plan to make it your full-time job (which I didn’t!). Additionally, the diverse talents of a dedicated team can take your blog to the next level.

  • Blog Manager: The person who will oversee all aspects of the blog, keep the team accountable, and ensure that you’re meeting your goals.
  • Copy editor: The person who will review every post before publishing to ensure standards of grammar, voice, clarity, and consistency are met.
  • Writers: The team of people who will regularly create content for the blog. Having a variety of people allows for different points of view and areas of expertise to be explored on the blog.
  • Guest Writers: Reach out beyond your own team to other industry experts. Ask them to contribute an article and let them know how they will benefit from appearing on your blog.

Write About Controversial Issues… Like Circumcision

Looking at our analytics data, we can see that a few of Bloom’s most popular posts are on the topic of infant circumcision. Whether or not to circumcise a newborn son is a question lots of new parents struggle with and they’re using the internet to gather information and form opinions on the subject. Our 10 most popular blog posts of all-time are listed below (nearly half are controversial in nature). Do you know your best performing blog posts?

Bloom Spokane Blog Most Popular Posts

The most viewed posts on the Bloom Blog.

In Don’t Run From That Controversial Blog Post, blogger Julie Neidlinger says, “Controversial is not the same as confrontational. Blog posts that are controversial are not unnecessarily argumentative or insulting. Instead, they talk about topics that need to be discussed, but without attacking people. They challenge accepted conclusions and ideas, the reader’s strongly held opinions, or confront something people are generally not willing to talk about.”

Done well, posts about controversial topics benefit readers by allowing them to explore new ideas and challenge status quo thinking. And, of course, these posts benefit your blog by attracting large numbers of visitors and increasing your brand awareness.

Build Relationships to Promote Your Blog

Social Media is a great platform for pushing content out into the world. Particularly with a new blog, you will find it helpful to have seasoned industry allies promoting your posts. They have the followers and can help get more traffic to your content.

Bloom’s post, Birth Advice From Labor & Delivery Nurses, went viral in February 2011 when big names in the birth world started posting about the article on Facebook. Most notably, Jill Arnold of The Unnecessarean, with over 27,000 followers, brought national attention to our blog when this article was given an enthusiastic mention on her Facebook page.

Unnecessarian-Facebook

How did The Unnecessarean even know about little ol’ Bloom Spokane? We’d been sharing Jill’s amazing work on Social Media and giving the site link love for a couple of years. I had also been actively commenting on her Facebook page and blog, so my name was likely familiar to her. When we knew we had a great article on our hands, we sent it to her and asked if she would consider sharing it on her page. She did!

Don’t Publish Content You Don’t Own or Have Permission to Use

Despite our best efforts to use only content and images we create or have the rights to use, one of our posts published in 2012 contained a stock image we had neglected to purchase a license for. Whoops!

CopyrightImage

Just last week, we received an email from the company that owns the image letting us know about the violation and demanding a $119 settlement. We paid the fine and are using this mistake as a reminder to remain vigilant about copyright infringement. Hopefully, you too can learn from us and not make this mistake on your own blog.

Always Be Learning

As with anything in life you want to do well, you will benefit from ongoing education and improvement of your skills. Blogging is no different.

  • Become a regular reader of other blogs, especially those in your industry.
  • Ask other writers to review your work and offer construstive criticism.
  • Sign up for classes that will help you become a better creative thinker, writer, photographer, search engine optimizer, or designer. There are so many online resources for improving your skills, like Skillshare and Udemy.

Use the Right Tools

In addition to finding the right blogging platform for your needs (we love WordPress), there are a few other tools that we’ve found useful.

  • Google Analytics is a free tool that provides data and insights about user behavior and traffic on your blog. This is a must if you’re measuring the progress of your blogging efforts to meet business ojectives.
  • Google Alerts is another free tool that keeps you informed of web activity concerning keywords that you select. This is super helpful in managing your online reputation and staying involved in conversations that concern you, your blog, and even your competitors.
  • Askimet is a service that analyzes the comments on your blog, determining which of those are spam, and saving you the headache of having to deal with them. It is free for non-commercial and personal blogs. Commercial site fees start at $5/month.
  • Linkstant notifies you via email every time someone links to your blog. Knowing about these links allows you to keep track of them and participate in the conversation on other sites/blogs, thus potentially driving more traffic to yours.

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Content For Location Landing Pages

A location landing page is a page on a website about a specific location in which that company does business. For single-location companies, this is usually the Contact page. For enterprises with more than one physical location, there should be a unique, well-optimized page for each of those stores, shops or offices on the company’s website.

In order for Google to reward your location landing pages with high rankings, its algorithms must determine that they are useful to visitors and provide relevant answers to the searcher’s query. Using duplicated pages with just the location information switched out on them is easy, but doesn’t really satisfy the Search Engines, so companies with many locations are often overwhelmed with the task of creating truly unique, useful content for all those pages.

Here are some must haves and optional ideas for what to include on your location landing pages. Once you have decided which information to display, you can create a template that will work for dozens, hundreds or thousands of location landing pages.

Location Landing Page Must Haves

  1. Full NAP (Name, Address, Local Phone Number) in Schema.org microformat. This is like handing the Search Engines a business card telling them what your name is, where you are located and what your phone number is.
  2. Map of your location and the surrounding area. This should be an embedded, interactive Google Map that users can zoom in and out to see where you are, what is nearby you and how to get to you.
  3. The days and hours that you are open.  Save visitors (and your staff) a phone call by answering this very common question.
  4. Calls to Action – People are much more likely to perform the action you wish them to if you spell it out for them. Clearly state what action(s) you wish people to take. Examples: Call today to make an appointment or Fill out this form for a free quote or Read reviews about us here.

 

Additional Options for Location Landing Pages

  1. Symbols of trust – Badges showing visitors that you can be trusted to do a good job and stand by your work. Examples: professional associations you belong to, certifications you have earned, awards you have won, and your membership in local business groups like the Chamber of Commerce and the BBB.
  2. Testimonials – Comments from happy customers who have done business with that specific location can help to build trust.
  3. Driving Directions and nearby landmarks – These are helpful especially if it’s tricky to find your location.  If parking options aren’t obvious, include those, as well.
  4. Contact form, if appropriate – People looking for an after hours clinic to set a broken arm are not going to fill out a form and wait for someone to contact them.  However, those looking for someone to remodel their bathroom, perform a knee replacement or install new computers throughout their offices are usually not in quite so much of a hurry and are willing to fill out the required fields.
  5. Photos – Give people a look at the street view for your business so that they can easily recognize it as they approach. Show them what your service vans or delivery trucks look like. Use pictures to introduce them to your managers and staff. Not only does this add some visual appeal to the page, but also helps to make your business and your people more familiar to them.
  6. Special/coupons – If you are running any specials or offering a discount coupon for this location, put it on this page. It may just seal the deal for you.

Our friends at Nifty Marketing created this infographic to illustrate the components of an optimal location landing page. Click on this link to see the larger version.

OptimalLandingPage

So if you have more than one store, shop or office, take the time to give each location its own useful, unique landing page that answers your visitors’ common questions and helps guide them to contact you or come to your place of business. It’s worth the effort!

 

Back to Blogging – Five Observations from Week 1

It gotta say, I really enjoyed getting back to blogging for the first time in nearly a year. I’d forgotten how much I enjoy it.  I was also quickly reminded of how eagerly I await comments, so thanks for chiming in. I really appreciate your comments, support, and motivation to keep this whole blogging thing going. That said, here are my five observations from week one.

1) It strengthened my online community

I think the most powerful thing I discovered this week was the effectiveness of blogging for connecting or re-connecting with people. I received several blog comments and emails from industry peers and friends welcoming me back to blogging and providing encouragement. This extension of my community makes the world feel just a little bit smaller and reminded me of how cool it was posting to online forums and user groups back in the day. For example, I’ve never met Toronto SEO Dev Basu in person (Although I think we might’ve met at SMX Local in San Francisco – 2008). But I’ve respected his work for a long time and blogging is a great way to keep in touch with industry professionals like Dev and grow your network. I can only imagine how effective regular blogging + conference attendance is to growth in the industry. In fact, it was at SEOmoz Advanced 2009 that (after a little tequila if memory serves correct) I suggested Spokane as the first stop for Get Listed University. I always look forward to great conferences like SMX Advanced, Mozcon, & Searchfest to learn from the best in the industry, connect with my online marketing peeps, and have a great time. Regular blogging will likely help me grow my network so I can see more familiar faces in the crowd. Maybe I’ll even meet Dev at my next conference.

2) My website traffic jumped

There’s a pretty huge caveat here. I have very low traffic. It just hasn’t been a goal of mine. And with my infrequent blogging, let’s just say I haven’t exactly grown a large following. While I don’t put much merit in overall traffic increases, I am pleased with the increase in referral traffic and brand search traffic driven by my recent post. While it hasn’t translated into business this past week, I believe that putting out good content on a regular basis will put me in the right position to earn new business. I had a comment from Matt McGee that sums up this thought very well:

And if this increase in referral traffic (shown in my Google Analytics data below) continues it will likely lead to good things down the road, just like Matt says.

When you examine the referral traffic in detail you can see that this traffic comes from my business network in Spokane (Facebook & Twitter), industry peers (Twitter), my Get Listed University faculty friends, and my Mom.

3) It drove searches for my brand

And while my brand search traffic is low, there is certainly a nice increase compared to the previous week (as seen below). This is probably the biggest take-away for small businesses in my opinion. By providing good content to your audience they’ll be looking for more content from you. And in time, you’ll have the possibility of earning their long-term business.

4) Search isn’t always the big dog

My blogging failure post started ranking quickly for, guess what,… blogging failure.

Within two days it was ranking 2rd on Google for “blogging failure” (4th on Bing/Yahoo). And for a second I was lured into thinking this would be good for business. It won’t (for a variety of reasons). My point is that people tend to place too much emphasis on rankings (myself included at times) and not the bigger picture. For example, here’s a success story I was touting at Get Listed Spokane last February.  My wife’s nonprofit Bloom Spokane has ranked 5th for “birth advice” and 1st for “hospital birth advicesince her blog post was published in February. What has it gotten her? Fame? Fortune? Free t-shirt? Nope. Just thirty four visitors via organic search traffic.

Don’t get me wrong. I love long-tail organic search traffic. It can be really important to a business. But it’s important to see the bigger picture. Three months of searches for all things “birth advice” does not represent a game changer to her nonprofit.

But the 122% increase in overall traffic since her blog post went viral makes a difference. That’s 5,772 more visitors than the previous period. More importantly, those 5,772 visits represent social media influencers, industry experts, potential speaking opportunities, and increased national exposure.

5) There’s Always Some Risk

There’s always some risk when you put your neck out there. You could offend your audience, not research a topic thoroughly enough, or inadvertently drive Twitter traffic to the wrong Ed Reese.

Sorry other Ed Reese. I’ll do my best to keep my business major, marketing frat boy douchebag friends at bay. We’ve got some kegstands to do, anyway.

My Blogging Failure & Rebirth

I have a confession. It’s been nearly a year since my last blog post. Yep, I haven’t blogged for nearly a year. That adds up to an #epicfail on the “how to blog effectively” front. So here’s my admittance of guilt, proof of the power of blogging, and plan for the future. Hopefully, it will provide some insight and help you craft a plan for your business blogging efforts.

Yeah, that’s quite a gap in blog posts. What makes this even worse is that I’m constantly preaching the virtues of blogging to clients as well as attendees at Get Listed University events. In fact, my wife’s blogging for  Bloom Spokane is part of my Get Listed analytics presentation.

In fact, I talked about her recent blogging success so much at our last few events that Matt McGee started calling me Ed “My Wife’s Blog Post” Reese. But she wrote an amazing article / interview that went viral in her niche. Talk about the power of blogging. It quickly boosted her to a national level and nearly doubled her average readership. Here’s a look at the timeline:

And not only did it help grow her audience, but it helped her search engine optimization efforts as well. Thanks to the new inclusion of social media signals into the search engine ranking algorithm (chronicled very well by SEOmoz here, and then tested on Twitter here, and detailed in amazing fashion here ) she is now ranking very well for a pretty broad phrase that’s often searched in her industry.

Nearly everyone I respect in the industry blogs on a regular basis and makes it part of their business practice. They’ve also told me in person (or publicly at conferences) how it has positively impacted their business, reputation, and careers. So whether it’s Rand Fishkin, David Mihm, Mike Blumenthal, Matt McGee, Lisa Barone, Neil Patel, or any of my awesome Get Listed compadres, they’ve all told me the power of words. In sequence. Online. That says stuff. Cool stuff. Insightful stuff. On a regular basis. It’s time to get back on track.

But if blogging is so dang effective, why doesn’t everyone do it?

  • Writing is hard. I liken it to golf. I may get better but it will always be a challenge.
  • It takes time. Life often gets in the way (work, kids, clients, etc.)
  • It’s not a direct payoff. It nearly always gets bumped for client work.
  • Consistency is hard. The ideas for posts don’t necessarily come on a regular basis.

So what am I going to do about it?

  • Follow Matt McGee’s advice and blog regularly. For me, that’s going to start at one post a week.
  • Create a blog publishing schedule to stay ahead of the game
  • Invite my team as well as guest bloggers to participate and provide a richer forum & perspective.
  • Create a process for publishing blog posts effectively.

Photo courtesy of Anthony Productions

Time for this epic blogging failure to come to a close. At least at the next Get Listed University event I won’t have to hide my head in shame when Matt McGee says “Would you trust someone (that has a blog) who hasn’t posted in six months?” Hey Matt, it was almost a year. But I’ve finally taken your advice :)

Hyperlocal Blogging: Q&A with Matt McGee

One of the sessions at Searchfest 2009 that really piqued my interest was the Hyperlocal Blogging presentation from Matt McGee. He was kind enough to answer a few follow-up questions. In addition to publishing four hyperlocal blogs with his wife Cari, Matt is an experienced SEO, hyperlocal blogger, and Assignment Editor to Search Engine Land. With that, let’s move on to the questions:

Matt, so what the heck is hyperlocal blogging, anyway?

Hyperlocal blogging is writing about the streets where you live. It’s blogging about local news, local events, local businesses — anything that’s happening in your hometown, city, street, or neighborhood. Hyperlocal blogs often talk about things that traditional media ignores, the stuff that’s too small or not important enough to a wide range of people.

It was apparent from the analytics you provided that hyperlocal blogging has increased your traffic. Has that translated to increased business?

We think it has, but we’ve been very cautious about using the local blogs as marketing tools, so it’s hard to say for certain. We’re taking a very long-term approach. Our primary goal has been to create four blogs that both users and search engines trust, so we’ve not done much selling of real estate services. Only in the last couple months have we added a content box on every blog post that says, “If you’re looking for real estate help, contact Cari….”

ROI seems to be the toughest thing to measure when it comes to blogging. Have you had success in identifying metrics (increased emails, phone calls, links, media mentions, etc.) that have improved since you started hyperlocal blogging?

Cari has had a steady stream of contacts since the blogs launched last year, with only the normal holiday break in November-December. So, while a lot of real estate agents have seen slowdowns, we’ve been blessed so far to avoid that. But getting precise data about which blog is producing leads has been tough. When Cari asks how someone found her, the most common answer is “You’re all over the Internet!” If they say they found her blog, she’ll ask which one … but most folks don’t seem to remember, and they don’t realize that we have different blogs.

When I go “off topic” in my blog posts, the bounce rate skyrockets. How does your bounce rate compare to a more focused discussion of, say, a real estate agent blogging about real estate information. And if it is higher, do you care or does the increase in traffic more than make up for it?

I don’t pay any attention to bounce rate because, really, we never go off-topic on the local blogs. Anything and everything happening in the community is on-topic, so as long as we don’t start writing about a Pasco event on our Richland blog, we’re fine. The focus (still) is to build a readership, to introduce people to the idea that local blogs exist, to get them in the habit of visiting, and so forth.

But I’ll add this: Our most popular blog post ever was a very recent one about Kanye West appearing on BET-TV wearing a letterman jacket from one of our local high schools. No one has a clue how he got the jacket, why he wore it, etc. That post has had 2-3 weeks of record-setting visits and more comments than any post we’ve written, but we know that most of it is from high school students. So that may seem like a loss. On the other hand, that post is giving Google all kinds of positive click-through data about our blog, it was mentioned in the local newspaper, and even got a link from the paper’s web site — and our paper is very stingy about linking out. So there are other benefits at play here.

It seems like hyperlocal blogging would best benefit businesses that serve a pretty broad spectrum of local consumer needs. Real estate definitely qualifies. Restaurants seem like another industry that could benefit. Are there business profiles/industries particularly well suited for hyperlocal blogging?

I think it’s more about the individual and the approach than the industry you’re in. We all care about where we live, and if you remember that you’re writing a local blog — as opposed to a real estate blog, a restaurant blog, a plumbing blog, etc. — you can make it work. There’s no reason a plumber couldn’t write about (and take photos of) the things s/he sees while out and about every day — new businesses being built, school and community events, road closures, and stuff like that. And then you mix in the occasional plumbing content and you’re doing well.

In closing, what do you see as the main benefits of hyperlocal blogging?

I can only answer this based on our soft-sell, low-marketing approach.

1) It allows you to capture a lot of long-tail, local search traffic … which
2) Increases your visibility/branding in the community … and
3) Can lead to new sales/leads/clients.
4) It’s good — or great, if done right — for SEO.
5) It gives you valuable community knowledge while giving back a valuable community resource.

Matt, thank you very much for your time!