What are the business benefits of blogging? (And why I'm not quoting any statistics.)
In my previous post we looked at the benefits of content marketing in general. In this post, we’ll look at one form of content marketing: blogging. Maybe you’ll end up creating videos or podcasts, but if you’re considering blogging for your business, this post is for you.
Why bother with blogging for your business?
Show your knowledge/expertise and establish yourself as a trusted expert.
Be helpful and demonstrate you’re a decent human.
Differentiate yourself from your competitors.
Help your site come up in Google searches related to your expertise.
Encourage website visitors to stick around, rather than bouncing away.
Help your current or former customers, encouraging loyalty and repeat purchases.
Make use of a low tech (and therefore cheap) form of marketing.
Let’s look at each of these, before turning briefly to the issue of statistics about blogging for business
Blogging shows your knowledge/expertise and establishes you as a trusted expert.
As consumers, we’re often reluctant to make a big purchase because we’re worried we’ll be ripped off by someone who doesn’t know what they’re doing. For some jobs, there are certifications that prove expertise (e.g. the Red Seal here in Canada). But even so, we might still have our doubts. And why choose one Red Seal certified carpenter over another?
Blogging shows your knowledge and expertise and helps to overcome your potential customers' fears.
This applies in B2B (business to business), as well as B2C (business to consumer), by the way. If you’re selling to a business, you’re still selling to a human. They can still have concerns about your competence and they don’t know if they should trust you or not.
Suppose you own a health tech business, and your clients are pharmacy owners. Blogging can show that you understand pharmacy owners and the pharmacy business. And showing is more persuasive than merely telling. If you tell your customers on your website, “I understand the pharmacy business”, that’s not tremendously persuasive.
But if you show that knowledge in your blog posts by:
acknowledging the specific business concerns that pharmacy owners face
mentioning the goals pharmacy owners tend to have
addressing the challenges that keep them up at night
“speaking their language”
…then you’re demonstrating that you know the pharmacy business. Your audience (pharmacy owners) are more likely to feel heard and understood. And they’ll be more ready to trust you and value what you have to say.
Blogging is a way to be helpful and show you’re a decent human.
The standard wisdom is that people prefer to buy from people they like. Likability is one of Robert Cialdini’s six “Principles of Persuasion” for marketers that he covers in his 1984 book, Influence. In another post some time, I’ll look into more current evidence for this claim. For the time being, though, because it’s a commonsensical claim, I’m going stick with the research Cialdini presents and take his word for it. (After all, isn’t likability an advantage in any human interaction?)
So, if we accept that likability works in our favour when we’re selling, that’s another reason to have a business blog. Being helpful in your business blog (rather than self-congratulatory, for example) is a way to be likable.
The reciprocity effect may also work in your favour here. The reciprocity effect is the human tendency to want to reciprocate when we receive something for free from someone else.
This is why some businesses and charities give free gifts such as address labels. They’re trying to make use of that tendency. For example, in one experiment, some pharmacy shoppers were given a free keychain when they entered the store. They spent more money than those who were not given a free keychain.
However, the difference in spending was small. Taking into account both the monetary and environmental costs of the keychains, it would likely be a bad business decision in this case.
For blogging, the only cost is your time (assuming you already have a computer).
You’ll need to collect data to see the business impact of that time you spend. I'll go into detail about collecting data and measuring ROI in another post. But right from the get go, you should at least record how long it takes you to research, write, edit, publish, and promote each blog post. (For the record, as I’m finalizing this blog post on my website, I see that it has taken over 8 hours so far.)
Unsurprisingly, the reciprocity effect can be used for terrible, horrible, no good, very bad things. For example, one study found that people who were given chocolate were more likely to tell strangers their passwords.
If the reciprocity effect ever has an impact on my business and on yours, I want it always to be a good thing! Our businesses can help make the world better. If providing helpful information in your blog makes your readers feel some inclination to reciprocate, that’s fine and dandy so long as the product or service you sell is also good!
Blogging is a way to differentiate yourself from your competitors.
You might be the only heating and plumbing business in town with a blog, and that can serve to differentiate you from your competition by itself.
But even if all the local heating and plumbing businesses are also blogging, it’s a way for you to show your personality, to show why customers should choose you. As well learning you're a helpful human, customers can get to know your character through your blog. Your competitors don’t have you.
Blogging is also a way to showcase your company’s values.
Suppose one company says that they recycle as much as possible. Fine. But if you write a blog post explaining the different types of waste you collect, the sources of that waste, and how many kilograms you recycle each month — that helps to show your green values. Much more persuasive.
Blogging can help your site come up in Google searches related to your expertise.
When people google questions related to your expertise, it would awesome for your website to come up on the first page. Blogging helps your business move up in the search rankings.
Suppose you own a lawn care business in Kelowna and someone googles, “What’s the best fertilizer for a lawn in Kelowna?” You want your website to come up near the top of the search results. If you answer their question, that builds that goodwill and trust. So when they’re looking for lawn care services in future, you’re more likely to be the choice than a random competitor.
Even if they're not directly about lawn care, you might answer related questions that are relevant to locals who (at some time) might need lawn care. E.g. Recommended bedding plants for Kelowna, Which trees do well in the Kelowna area?, How to prevent deer from eating roses, etc.
If your blog content is great and you’re lucky, you might get some social shares — increasing your audience and your pool of potential customers. If other websites link to your blog, that helps your search rankings too. It provides Google with more evidence that you have valuable information on your site.
SEO (search engine optimization) is a huge topic in itself. It’s not something that many of us can hope to master before starting a business, or before starting a blog. It’s good to learn the basics, get started, and improve as you learn more. Here are a couple of sites to get you started:
Seriously, though, you can get bogged down in the SEO swamp. We business owners and entrepreneurial types typically feel like we always have more to learn. If we waited until we felt completely ready, we’d never start! My view is that it’s better to learn enough to get started and then keep learning and improving as we go along. And keep in mind that improvements in the rankings can take a long time to materialize. If we’re going to do it at all, it’s better to get started sooner rather than later.
Blogging is a way to encourage website visitors to stick around on your site, rather than bouncing away.
The time a visitor spends on a site is often referred to as “dwell time”. Generally, longer dwell times are better — because we want visitors to find our websites valuable enough to stick around. That is the point of blogging, remember — to provide value to visitors. (With the goal that some of them will eventually become customers.)
There is some controversy about whether Google cares how long a visitor stays on your site in response to a Google query. By far the most common view I’ve come across is that it does care. Let’s look at that view first and then consider the alternative.
Suppose you sell bookkeeping software. And someone googles, "What are the important features in bookkeeping software?"*
If they go to your site and stick around — perhaps reading the in-depth post you have on your site that answers that question — many claim that Google pays attention.
If someone visits your site and they bounce away quickly, Google infers that your site didn’t do a good job of answering the visitor’s question. Or so the standard story goes.
If you can link to other relevant content on your site and keep your visitors engaged and interested, Google might notice that too. I’ve read that it also notices if you overdo it and you’re linking just for the sake of linking. Perhaps they do it by magic. Or perhaps just by counting the number of internal links. I have no idea.
But we don’t need to know the details of how Google operates. The most important thing is to keep in mind being helpful to human visitors.
If you help humans, you’re likely to please Google in the long run too — because Google’s goal is to direct people to the sites that best answer their queries. So even if we assume that Google does care about dwell time, it’s still a good practice to please your human visitors.
Does dwell time matter to your bottom line?
You don’t make money from people simply spending time on your website. And you don’t make money from Google paying attention to dwell time (if it does). So why does it matter how long visitors spend on your site?
First of all, according to some reports, time spent on a website does correlate with purchasing. However, even if this correlation is real, it does not mean that if visitors stay on your site longer, they become more likely to buy in that session.
It could be that people who already have an intention to buy spend longer on a site that sells what they want (compared to those who don't intend to buy). That is, an intention to buy could cause a visitor to spend more time on a site. RATHER THAN a longer dwell time causes the visitor’s intention to buy.
So, as far as we can know, the relevance of longer dwell times is not that if someone sticks around long enough, they’re going to click ‘buy now’.
Instead, the relevance of dwell time to your bottom line is supposed to be via your search page rankings.
The idea is that if Google sees you have content that people stick around for, it means you’re likely answering their search questions. And that will improve your Google rankings for that question (and related variations).
This means that when someone is getting close to buying and they ask, "What are the most important features in bookkeeping software?"* your site is more likely to rank near the top. That’s why dwell time is supposed to matter to your bottom line.
But does Google care about dwell times after all?
Remember I mentioned that it’s controversial whether or not dwell times have an impact on search rankings? Most sites I’ve come across say that it does. But Gary Illyes, who works at Google, says that’s “made up crap”.
Unless you have a way of knowing and understanding the details of how Google works, my view is that we should focus on the bigger picture: Google’s goals. Google succeeds when it gives people accurate information that answers their questions. If Google didn’t do that reasonably well, people wouldn’t use it, and it wouldn’t be a super-successful advertising venue — and Google wouldn’t make as much money.
Remember: If you provide accurate information that answers people’s questions, Google wants you to be found in search.
This is why I think that anything beyond the basics of SEO is overkill. But then of course I would say that because I’m writer, not a tech person who digs all that complicated computery stuff. So, keep your skeptic hat on and make of that what you will. In the end, each of us has to decide for ourselves how much effort we think it’s worth trying to play the Google SEO game.
*By the way, the question "What are the most important features in bookkeeping software?" could be asked at early stages of research or when someone is close to making a decision. But search questions won't always be similar at different stages. Sometimes the questions will be quite different at different stages of the sales funnel. So you can see the importance of having posts that address questions at different stages of the sales funnel. But that's an issue for another post.
Blogging is a way to help your current or former customers, encouraging loyalty and repeat purchases.
Don’t forget the customers you already have! Your customers have already bought one of your apps, let's suppose. Now you want to keep them happy.
You could write blog posts on how to troubleshoot issues, or how to use features they may not have discovered, or tutorials on how to get the most out of the app. You could have customer success stories in blog posts, sharing how your app has helped people, inspiring others to use it in similar ways.
Blogging is also a way to gather feedback on your product to improve future versions. Your customers can give you insights into how they use your product too. If they are satisfied with your product, of course they're more likely to buy from you again and to recommend your products to others.
Many sites make the claim that it’s much cheaper to retain a customer than to acquire a new one. How much cheaper is hard to say. I’ve seen many different statistics quoted. This Harvard Business Review article suggests that the number varies across studies and that the cost difference will depend on the industry.
Whatever the difference in cost between acquiring a customer and retaining one, it stands to reason that you’ll want to keep your current customers happy. First, it’s being a decent human. And, second, we know from our own experience that we’re more likely to buy from a business that we’ve already had a good experience with. Blogging is a way to help keep your customers happy.
Blogging is low tech.
Compared to creating videos and podcasts, blogging for your business is low tech. It doesn’t require any special equipment — assuming you already have a computer. And low tech means low budget. And every business owner and entrepreneur likes that. :)
So, there are all sorts of reasons to blog on your business website. In addition to all the reasons above, blogging for your business also gives you something to share on social media and in your marketing emails. Both of these channels help you reach even more potential customers, increasing the value of your blog.
How powerful are these reasons, given the cost of the time you put into writing a blog? Are they powerful enough to be worth it for your business? At this point, it would be natural for me to find some statistics to show you that blogging is likely to benefit your business. But I’m not going to do that.
The statistics about blogging are a topic for another post. Unsurprisingly, about many of these stats, the Skeptical Marketer is skeptical. :) The data is often flawed in some fundamental way. For example, many surveys are funded and conducted by companies that have an interest in promoting content marketing. Or the sample size is tiny, or the sample is biased (non-random). In future, I will write a post digging into various statistics. (I plan to ask a statistician to collaborate with me.)
Even if we accept the statistics stating that blogging helps some large percentage of businesses attract more potential customers, of course that doesn’t mean it’ll work for yours. I can’t recommend blogging for you because I don’t know anything about your business or your writing skills or your market. So I can’t possibly know if blogging is a good idea for you.
If you’re interested in trying blogging as a marketing technique for your business, probably the best thing to do is to give it a good shot over a decent period of time and see how it works for you. (Maybe post once a week for six months?)
You have to track your own data. Does blogging result in more visitors to your website? Does it result in more email subscribers? (Ultimately, of course, you want some of those visitors and subscribers to become customers. But that job is beyond the function of a blog.)
I’m making a bet that blogging will be good for my business. Will you make the same bet for yours or are you planning to stick with alternative forms of marketing? Let me know in the comments.
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