Business phone calls: turning questions into blog posts

Turning business questions into source material for creating quality posts for your small business blog.

An office telephone

As a small business owner, you are likely to field a number of recurring questions from your clients. You probably even say to yourself, “If I only had a dollar for each I’ve answered that question, I’d be a millionaire!” That your clients and target audience are coming to you with such questions is a good thing — it’s a reflection of the professional trust and respect that they have for you. But did you know that those questions can serve as key source material for creating quality posts for your small business blog?

Today’s customers’ questions become tomorrow’s blog posts

That’s right! The same questions that you field on a regular basis can be effectively turned into a blog post for your small business. Format the post as top tips, FAQ, or as a ‘how to’. Be sure to spend enough time on the post — answer the question completely so that your readers (your current and potential customers) will see that you know your stuff.

An online resource

In addition to becoming a quality blog post, a coherent, comprehensive answer can also serve as a time-saving resource. The next time that you get call with that question, you can direct the caller to that specific post on your site. Your caller will be grateful for a detailed answer to the question, and will have the ability to refer back to that post in the future if needed. You keep the phone call short while still meeting your client’s needs.

UPDATE:
In response to comments and emails that I’ve received outside of this blog, I have written a more detailed post about blogging to answer daily business questions.

Ideas of valuable content for small business blogs

A list of ideas for types of valuable content that small companies can post on their business blogs.

Blog ideas

As a communications designer and online marketing consultant, I regularly field questions from small business owners about the sort of content they should post on their company blogs. “What can I say that people will want to read?” is what I hear from businesses in the US and the UK alike.

When responding to such questions, I emphasise that small businesses are not competing with the BBC or CNN to be the primary news source for their audiences. Small businesses should focus on their target audience (existing customers, potential customers, suppliers, local journalists and other local businesses), generating content geared to make a connection with that audience.

Valuable blog content for small businesses

Over time, I have developed a list of ideas for types of valuable content that small companies can post on their business blogs. By no means exhaustive, this list gives small business owners a place to start when thinking of ideas to blog about.

  • An exciting case study: Discuss how we met a particularly tough business challenge and how that more than met our client’s needs.
  • Insight into our business: Reveal our business personality … what sets us apart from our competitors?
  • Examples of innovative problem solving: Demonstrate that we’re savvy business people by describing a problem that we resolved with particular ingenuity or innovation.
  • Photos of new products, services or from social events: A picture is worth a thousand words … enough said.
  • Connections with partner companies: Publicly offer thanks or share the credit with our business partners or suppliers.
  • Links to valuable offerings online: When we find a great article offering tips or advice for small businesses, share it!
  • Promotion of other local organisations: Market our local business community. There is strength in local promotion, so be an integral part of that.
  • Customer ‘how to’ insights: Give customers tips on how to get greater value from our services or products. It’s a good approach for building brand loyalty.
  • ‘Day in the life’: When our business interacts with customers it is through our staff; help our customers get to know our greatest assets by featuring them on our blog.
  • Professional commentary on recent industry news: Use our experience and expertise to offer insight to high-profile news stories that affect our industry or local area.

My list of valuable content for small business blogs is only a starting point. Use your creativity to generate other ideas. What additional examples can you add that might help other small businesses generate valuable posts for their blogs?

A Blogger’s Approach to SEO

A day-to-day, practical list of actions that bloggers can take to increase traffic to their websites through web searches.

Screen shot of adding a new blog post

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to send a client a detailed email offering practical advice to getting search engine optimization (SEO) value out of my client’s blogging efforts. Rather than burdening my client with the technical aspects of SEO, I shared a day-to-day, practical list of actions the client could take to increase traffic through web searches.

The list below has been generalized for wider application. Additional suggestions are welcome. Google is used in this discussion as a representative of all internet search engines.

Regular posts

Google really likes new content. Fresh blog posts and web pages filled with keywords have a great ability to attract Google’s attention. In the early days of launching our blog, we should publish as often as is practical and sustainable. Once a week is a good target. Such a pace can, in a sense, entice Google to recognize our website as a reliable provider of content on our focus topic. Breaking down longer posts into several posts is one way to help us post frequently, running the article as a series rather than as a single post.

Writing for keywords

When writing blog posts, it’s important to include instances of our keywords — words which we want Google to associate with our blog when they are searched for on Google. Of course, some of that will come naturally as we write about our focus area. Still it’s important to use our selected keywords as often as is practicable. Although we definitely want to write for humans – which means that our content must be intelligent and coherent – packing a post with keywords will certainly help improve the search-engine friendliness of the posts.

Use headings and subheadings

The use of heading tags (<h1>, <h2> and <h3>) is important from an SEO standpoint. In addition to providing structure to our posts, they also serve to present the post to Google in an outline format. Well … that might not be the best way to phrase it, but the use of heading tags allows search engines to know more about the content in our blog posts. From a readability standpoint, they also allow humans to more easily scan through the post.

Include internal links and hyperlink titles

This section was added on 30 Sep. 2011 as a result of feedback that I received from Alex Walker (@AlexatSage). I am grateful for his readership of my blog, and more importantly, for his valuable contributions.

To encourage our readers to flip through more than just one post on our blog, let’s be sure to include internal links within each post. Look for ways to link to other, related posts on our site. This will make it easier for visitors to our site to casually work their way through our content. Moreover, if we do consistently blog on a specific topic, linking articles will assist our readers in obtaining a more comprehensive understanding of our focus area.

Another technical tip is to use title tags in our hyperlinks. Title tags in hyperlinks add a little more information about where a link will lead. They possess SEO value and can be helpful when adding internal links to our blog posts. They are very easy to add (especially when using blogging software like WordPress), so it won’t take much to go that extra step.

Comment on other blogs

Blogs are about conversation, and bloggers love it when someone new leaves a comment on their blog. They will definitely respond at the very least by checking out our own blog and possibly even leave comments on our site. That’s great from both the SEO and web traffic levels standpoints. Google also likes posts which have lots of on-going comments. We should aim to comment on other blogs at least two or three times a week in the first several months of launching our blog. The comments that we leave don’t need to be long, but they should show that we’ve read the post and have something to say. That ‘something’ can definitely be a well-worded thank you.

Get out there and tweet

In addition to leaving comments on the blogs of people writing on our areas of interest, it’s also helpful to make connections with people via Twitter. This can be done by following those who attention we wish to attract, or simply by retweeting some of their posts. Another helpful approach is to reply to their tweets with our own thoughts. That can be done via the 140 character limit in Twitter or by sharing a link to a web site or blog … perhaps even to our own blog posts on the topic.

Tell people about it!

Let’s not forget the value of straight-up self promotion. Don’t be afraid to email friends and colleagues about our blog, particularly if a specific post might be of interest to them. Ask some of them to share their thoughts and feedback as comments. Print business cards which include our blog address and share them with everyone. Add our blog address to our email signature.

In it for the long haul

I’ll conclude by suggesting that driving traffic to a website in an organic way – no advertising – takes a lot of effort and at least several months. The rewards of achieving sustainable traffic levels are certainly enjoyable, but they only come with effort.

The Casual Pitch for Twitter

A few bullet points and ideas on the case for personal and professional use of Twitter.

Twitter logo

It wasn’t too many days ago that I was chatting with a few friends about the value of Twitter usage from both a professional and personal perspective. As a follow-up to that conversation, I emailed my friends (both of whom are not on Twitter) a note about some of the main reasons for using Twitter.

Both of the people with whom I was speaking happen to be legal academics. However, the lists below are certainly relevant to a wider range of professions.

First, a quote from Evan Williams, the Co-Founder of Twitter: “Twitter lets people know what’s going on about things they care about instantly, as it happens.”

The ideas posted below are not listed in order of importance or immediate relevance. Rather, they are listed in the order that they popped into my head.

The Professional Case for Twitter

  1. By searching Twitter, you can see what people around the world are saying about a particular topic.
  2. When attending a conference, you can communicate with the organizers and other attendees. Communication can be about updates to the conference schedule, speaker listings, presentation locations or whatever.
  3. If you blog, you can use Twitter to promote your blog and to engage with other bloggers to create a dialog.
  4. You can be on Twitter as a follower and not as a speaker. You don’t have to say anything on Twitter; just following and listening is perfectly acceptable. You can stay in tune without broadcasting.
  5. You can follow the key media outlets for your area of academic (or professional) expertise, giving yourself access to real time news and articles on that topic.
  6. Twitter is truly international, so active engagement in conversations on Twitter can lead to the development of a vastly expanded professional network.
  7. The technology and law surrounding social media, distribution, free speech, etc. continues to evolve. By using this increasingly popular tool, you will have first-hand experience and insight into this developing story and industry.
  8. Although no replacement for proper research, Twitter is great for asking for recommendations about a myriad of topics.
  9. Twitter can be leveraged to develop a presence and reputation for being a source for knowledge and news on a particular topic.
  10. You can distribute links, changing to class schedule, etc. to students in a very timely fashion.

The Personal Case for Twitter

  1. Keep informed: Follow local museums, libraries, stores, cinemas and government offices to keep apprised of comings and goings.
  2. Stay in touch: Like Facebook and email, Twitter is another way to keep in touch with friends and family.
  3. Save money: more and more business and fee-charging organizations (like museums) are offering deals exclusively through Twitter.
  4. Find a hidden gem: People you follow will share something new, exciting or valuable. Twitter is a perpetual office water cooler conversation where people share tips, advice and experiences.

The next Tweet, Tag & Blog session

If you’re interested in learning about how social media can be of help in enabling your small or medium business or charitable organisation to connect with your customers and supporters, then this seminar is for you.

Liam delivering a social media seminar

As the summer drifts along at a frighteningly fast pace, I am excited to share the news that, over at lbdesign, we’re holding our second Tweet, Tag & Blog session. If you’re interested in learning more about how social media can be utilised to build an online presence, increase brand awareness and connect with customers, then this seminar is for you!

Here’s what Rachel Collingwood, director of Nice Images, said of the seminar we ran in May 2010:

“Whey hey! Nice Images loved the ‘Tweet, Tag + Blog’ session by lbdesign and we are working hard using all the excellent ideas we were given and bringing some joy back into our business.”

This valuable training session is being held in London, UK, on Thursday, 23 September from 9.30 am to 12.00 pm. Check out the following page for further details and registration information:

http://lbdesign.tv/news/the-next-tweet-tag-blog

Blogging here, blogging there

laptop keyboard

It’s been a busy writing schedule for me of late. In addition to my normal publication schedule over at chickenmonkeydog.com, I’ve been writing a few posts for some of my colleagues’ and clients’ blogs. I’ve been fortunate enough to have been asked to contribute some thoughts on blogging and social media with a couple of different websites.

In my role as an associate of The Governance Partnership, I offered some guidance for blogging for small businesses. That particular post looks at some of the blog software options available to smaller organisations, including a programme called ‘Getting British Businesses Online‘, which I learned of from Enterprise UK.

As part of an exciting new blog launched this month by Cockpit Arts, I wrote a piece entitled Social Media: Thy Name is Community Building. The post offers a few tips to those who ponder what sort of material could be useful in building an effective online presence.

Getting your head around online marketing

Over at lbdesign, I spend a considerable portion of my day working with clients on developing and implementing online marketing strategies. As a key market for lbdesign is small businesses and charities, we’ve decided to put together a seminar to cover some of the key points when it comes to using social media to help meet business goals.

Tweet, tag and blog: connecting with customers to build your brandOver at lbdesign, I spend a considerable portion of my day working with clients on developing and implementing online marketing strategies. As a key market for lbdesign is small businesses and charities, we’ve decided to put together a seminar to cover some of the key points when it comes to using social media to help meet business goals. Luckily for me, that means another trip over to London. Yeah!

Our seminar is called Tweet, tag and blog: connecting with clients to build your brand, and will cover the key social media websites and how they can be of use to your business, offer some exciting ideas on how to build your company’s online presence through a combination of social media tools and will deliver a practical guide to implementing a social media strategy for your own business.

More information on how to register is on the lbdesign website. There are two seminars on Tuesday, 20 April, one in the morning and the other in the afternoon. The seminars are the same, so there is no need to attend both.

A minor milestone

When I started this little blog back on 17 March 2007, I did so mostly to help people find me online.  And whilst I do post on a regular basis  (not on set schedule per se, but a few times a month), I never really bothered about visitor levels and the like. My primary objective was top Google search listing results and once that had been secured, I didn’t worry too much about metrics.  Of course, I glanced at the numbers from time to but, but I never paid too much attention to them.

That said, I just checked my numbers this morning (out of a sudden rush of curiosity, as I do pay attention to web traffic levels on some of my other sites.) I was surprised to learn that, according the WordPress.com Stats plugin, there were over 1,000 views on this website for the past two months. Huh! Who’d a thunk it?!?

Thanks to all you visitors, whoever and wherever you are.  I appreciate you stopping by.