Digital Marketing
14 min read

How to Start a Blog: The Ultimate Guide for Business Owners

Written by Ollie Burt 

Digital Marketing is a pretty vast discipline. Even seasoned marketers may find it tough to stay on top of the latest trends and strategies for each individual channel. If you're a business owner working to a limited budget you may find yourself responsible for much of the digital marketing activity.

For those of you fortunate to have a dedicated marketing function in your business, you may still find that the marketing strategy still falls to you. So you probably have a decision to make. If you're unsure of where to apply your marketing efforts and have limited resource, my advice is nearly always the same - content marketing. Social may be sexy, but content is king.

A well-executed content marketing strategy can power your social, SEO and email channels with very limited resource. And the best way to implement a content marketing strategy is through a blog.

What is a blog?

A blog (short for "weblog") is an informational website that displays articles, or "posts", in reverse chronological order. Usually built on a CMS (Content Management System) that makes it quick and easy for writers, or "bloggers", to add content. Blogs are usually focussed on a specific topic or viewpoint and can include one or many contributing bloggers. Businesses use blogs to share press releases and company news as well as content relevant to their customer base to position themselves as thought leaders in their industry.

I should point out that there is much more to SEO, social and email strategies, but each one of those would require an entire series of how to's to do them justice. But you have to start somewhere, and if you're a small business with limited resources or budget, you should start with content marketing and go from there.

How to set up a blog

Before you get into the technical process of setting up a blog you should first think about whether it's the right move. Think about whether you have something to offer. Generally speaking, as long as you can establish an angle for your blog, the answer will be "yes". If you're an individual blogger, then usually your angle is your unique viewpoint on anything and everything. But as a business blog, you need to be a bit firmer in your approach.

If you find yourself answering the same questions or explaining similar concepts to your customers repeatedly; if you're any sort of expert in your field; and if there is any research stage involved in buying your products - a blog has value. And if you're still unsure, check out your competitors, industry experts or commentators, chances are they have a blog, which means there's an angle.

When I perform a website audit for clients, the most depressing thing I see is a blog without any posts, or worse, the standard "Hello World!" that WordPress kicks out. This indicates to me that either someone asked for, or at least signed off on, the addition of a blog to their website without any plan on what to do with it.

I'm not saying you need a full-blown content plan at this point (that comes later) but you should at least make sure you have the time or resources to contribute to it regularly - at least once a month is fine in most cases, anything less and it will look a bit sad.

Once you're committed, getting set up is pretty straightforward.

CMS (Content Management System)

Blogs really took off with the introduction of early Content Management Systems (CMS), before then to run a website with regularly updated content required a new page in HTML - it wasn't great.

Luckily, it's now quick and easy to get set up with a blog. If you already have a website, this is the best place to create your blog, after all - that's where you convert your customers and you want all those SEO perks too.

Wix, Blogger, SquareSpace, GoDaddy - these are all fine for hobbyists and people who are "just happy to be here" on the internet. But for serious businesses, you need something more substantial. For this, I can't look beyond WordPress - in terms of functionality and flexibility, it can't be beaten.

WordPress accounts for around 40% of business websites, by far the lion's share - so chances are you already have what you need. Just ask your web developer to get you set up - or if they're not in the picture, give me a shout and I'll take a look.

Design

Assuming you now have access to the backend of your CMS you now need to think about how your blog will look on the front-end. Your blog consists of two main types of page, Archives and Posts. In most cases, your blog home will list links to your blog posts in reverse chronological order. This, along with your Archives (specific pages listing posts from individual categories, tags or date ranges) will usually look the same but display links to your individual posts dynamically. See https://novainternet.uk/blog/ for an example.

The other main design consideration for your blog is how the individual Posts themselves will look (like this page you're on now). You've probably been on plenty of news sites and blogs that are covered in ads, links to other articles or websites - if you're a business, don't do that. Instead, make your valuable content the main focus of the page, keep it clean and people will actually enjoy reading your posts.

If your templates are set up correctly, adding new blog content is really quick and easy. It's all done in the back end of your CMS and you know what whatever you put in there will come out looking great. This not only makes adding to your blog more efficient but also makes it more accessible to less design-focused members of your team.

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Content marketing plan

If you were a marketing professional, we'd be getting into fun stuff like buyer personas and content marketing matrices - this is where we would identify who needs what type of content and when and then work out a plan to deliver it to them. But as a business owner looking to get the most out of their internal resource, this is overkill.

Instead, let's look at some simple steps to make your life easier.

Categories

The first thing you should think about is the general, top-level topics you're going to cover. Categories serve a dual purpose. They're there to help your audience navigate your blog and find the content they want, but also to guide your content marketing strategy. If a category only has one post in it, it shouldn't exist.

I prefer to keep the number of categories in line with how often you'll be publishing content. The more content, the more categories. We publish fresh content a few times a week across five categories. I have a few clients who publish content once a month, for them, we don't usually use categories on the front end of the blog - if we did, it would take too long to populate them with relevant content. However, we do use categories when discussing the content plan.

When deciding on which categories to include in the content marketing plan we generally look to keep each of them aligned with a particular product line. If you look at our blog, it's a pretty good example - as well as more general stuff we write about digital marketing, web design & graphic design - all of which are closely related to our core services.

Brainstorming

Once you've mapped out your categories, before you think about writing your first post, you should brainstorm some blog post titles. Again, how many will depend on the number of categories you have and how often you'll be posting but I like at least five potential titles for each category, or a few months worth - depending on how you look at it.

This step not only helps you validate your choice of categories (if you can't think of five posts that fit, it shouldn't exist) but also gets you ahead of the game. Once you start blogging, you'll probably find it's something that gets put off for more pressing matters - so if you've got some examples there waiting for you, you might be a bit more willing to give it the time.

When we put forward our blog titles in a content marketing plan, it usually consists of a few dozen proposed titles (we don't use them all). For the most part, we base these suggestions on a larger SEO strategy and keyword research.

But if, as a business owner, if you don't have the luxury of a targeted SEO strategy (firstly, speak to me) then you can still get ideas from other sources. Take a look at your blogging competitors, industry commentators and publications and see what areas they have covered. In general, if you're producing quality, relevant content, Google will reward you.

Preparation

This step is optional, but I'd recommend it. As you decide which blog post ideas to go ahead with, place them in a content calendar - this helps keep you on track, a blog is a commitment after all.

As a minimum, for each blog idea map out a working title, which category it will be in, the keyword focus (this comes from your SEO strategy) as well as links to any references or resources you'll need to write the article.

If you want to go one step further, map out the content for each post in bullet form while it's fresh. This will help speed things up when it comes to producing the final blog post.

How to write a blog post

When it comes to writing blog copy, many business owners share the same concern - that if they share their knowledge and expertise freely, their customers will no longer need them. This is understandable, but nobody is suggesting you share your "secret sauce" recipe. Your blog should focus on complementary topics that your potential customers will appreciate rather than telling people how to copy your internal processes.

To put it a simple way... if you're a restaurant owner, you aren't going to do yourself out of customers by sharing some basic recipes. People come to your restaurant for the overall experience and because they know you're a professional. The same way that we provide content marketing services, but are writing about how to do it yourself on a budget.

With that in mind, it's time to go ahead with writing your first blog post.

Introduction

I'm not going to be predictable and talk intro, middle and end - but introductions are important when writing a blog post. People have limited attention spans and you only have a few paragraphs to reassure them that this is worth their time.

Outline the questions you're going answer and the problems you're going to solve. Focus on the result, indicate what the visitor will have gained by taking the time to read your blog post.

Try to establish a rapport with your readers early on, this isn't an academic piece - so keep it part informational, but also part personal and entertaining.

Structure

If you haven't already, it's time to organise your content. Blog posts contain a lot of information so the structure is important. It's easy to get carried away and write too much or go off on too much of a tangent, so map out the points you want to cover and in what order before you start.

Take advantage of headers, sub-headers, lists and images (make sure they're relevant to the post) to break up your blog post into manageable chunks. Keeping visitors attention is an ongoing battle, so avoid paragraph after paragraph of continuous prose.

Writing

For many people, this is the hardest part. If you've mapped out what it is you want to say, now it's time to think about how you're going to say it. Conveying information in a clear and engaging way is a skill in itself, and it's much different putting it down in words to doing it in a conversation.

Often, I find that business owners are able to talk passionately about a very specific area of their business for a good while without coming up for air; but ask them to put that same information down in writing and they hit a wall. Usually, it's some hang-up about writing style or spelling and grammar - but if I was to simplify it, I'd put it down to trying too hard.

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If you're new to blogging, or content marketing in general it's easy to get preoccupied with making sure what you write is "good marketing copy" but also "grammatically correct" and "keyword optimised". Forget all that, if you're new to writing for a blog focus on producing something of value that clearly communicates an idea to your audience - the rest comes after.

Proofreading

This should go without saying, especially if you're a little nervous about your writing ability - but always go back over your content before you publish. Most CMS have a decent spellchecking option in place, but for something with a few more features, I'd suggest Grammarly.

At the same time, check that your blog copy flows from one paragraph to the next, or did you get lost along the way. Think about whether there was a more succinct way to get a particular point across. In most cases, shorter sentences are better and easier to read.

Share your draft with colleagues and edit it until you're happy.

How to optimise a blog post

This is a pretty general term, and if you know anything about websites or digital marketing then you already know that there are many different types of optimisation. They all need some level of consideration.

Your website should already be optimised for speed and mobile, have a word with your developer (or me) if it isn't. But all other types of optimisation require some fine-tuning on a per post basis.

Conversion

Where possible you should always tie your blog posts into a product or service that you provide - otherwise, you should ask yourself why you're writing it. Make sure you include at least one clear call to action in each of your blog posts. This can be a direct link to purchase or as simple as a note to get in touch for more information.

Social

If you're producing regular blog content, you should also be sharing it on your social channels. Your social media posts should include a link to your blog post and an eye-catching image. The problem is, that each of the major social media platforms treats posted links a little differently, specifically when it comes to images.

To cover your bases, make sure you add OpenGraph and Twitter Card markup to your blog post to specify an image to be used when your link it posted - this can usually be handled by your CMS, but speak to your developer if you're unsure.

When choosing an image for your blog post, keep in mind that different platforms prefer different social media image sizes and go for something that can be used on every channel to avoid creating more work for yourself.

SEO

Let me point out, SEO (search engine optimisation) is a huge topic. Do it right and the results can drive your business growth for years. Get it wrong and it can take just as long to undo the mistakes. I'm a genuine believer that if you write valuable, compelling content Google will reward you for it.

But if you're working on a more targeted keyword campaign, backed by a professional SEO agency then a blog is the ideal place to go after some long-tail keywords and build up your internal linking structure. If you're working from a position of keyword research then you can keep your target keyword in mind while writing your blog post, but also in your final optimisations.

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Even if you don't have a keyword strategy, as a minimum you should still set a unique page title and meta description for each of your blog posts. Again, this can done through your CMS.

Publishing a blog post

If you've followed this guide in its entirety you'll be ready to hit that big "publish" button. But first, make sure you go back and double-check that working title. You might find that during the course of writing your blog post that the subject has shifted slightly - make sure this is reflected and craft a catchy title. Once your new blog post is live, share it on your social channels (more than once), include it in your email newsletter and if you like, send it to me too.

It might seem like this is a long, drawn-out process just to create a bit of content ... and it is. That's why in most cases it's best to have either a dedicated resource or an agency contributing to your content strategy.

But if there's no choice but to take it on yourself, my advice is this - just go for it. Something is always better than nothing and some of the best bloggers I know have been the ones that learned on the job. You will improve and find your own "voice" quickly when you do it yourself.

The last thing to remember is to come back for more. Running a blog is not a one and done exercise, you need to contribute on a regular basis and give it the time and attention it deserves to grow.

Copywriting Services

Just one quick note on our content marketing services - remember a strong call to action, aligned with one of your core services. If you do find that you don't have the time to run your blog effectively or need a little inspiration - we can help.

Our approach to content marketing is based on market analysis and keyword research - meaning all your content will serve to further your main business objectives.

We like to think of ourselves as different to other agencies that may cost a fortune in retainers or outsource your copywriting to content farms (that's a thing). We really get to know your business, and if you've read this far I think you'll have a pretty good idea of what we're about.

Get in touch using the live chat button to discuss your content marketing strategy.

Bonus: Blog post examples

A blog is used to describe the overall website, or section of your website, that houses your articles. These articles are called "posts" and they come in different shapes, sizes and flavours. While not every type of blog post will suit your strategy, having a basic understanding of the different types of blog posts can help you when planning your content strategy and inject some variety into what you produce.

Listicles

A mashup of article and list, "listicles", as they are commonly called in the blogging community are lists of things in blog form. That might not seem clear at first, but basically, a listicle is a numbered list of items fleshed out with enough supporting copy to be published.

Listicles are massively popular and are my first example for good reason. List-based articles are quick and easy to pull together, easy for readers to digest and are highly shareable.

How-To Guides

A great opportunity to showcase your skills and knowledge, how-to guides explain the steps or process of completing a particular task. Also known as thought leadership posts, by sharing your knowledge you position your brand (whether that's you as an individual or your company) as an expert in your industry.

A huge percentage of search engine queries are phrased as questions, after all the internet is a huge learning resource. How-to guides are not only great for your readership, but Google loves them too. Use this type of blog post to back up your SEO strategy and get some of those long-tail keywords into your copy.

Cheat Sheets

Checklists and cheat sheets are best thought of as practical resources in blog form. Quite often, your audience won't read through the entire article, but instead will use it as a tool or quick reference to check something.

Resources like this are highly bookmark-able and highly shareable. Think about whether these types of blog post would also work well as a takeaway PDF resource (branded of course) or infographic too.

Infographics

When you have a lot of information to deliver, nothing quite beats an infographic. By presenting facts and figures in a visual way, you make it easier for the brain to draw connections and digest - plus, it makes boring stuff more interesting.

Example:

linkedin social media image sizes

You might think that as infographics are images, they don't belong on a blog as an article and should only be used on social channels. You'd be missing an opportunity. You've already done the research, planned and produced an infographic - you should definitely create a blog post around it.

The infographic can still be the main attraction at the top - but include all the information as text below too. This is mostly for the SEO benefit, but your infographic blog post is also the perfect place to include your embed code for anyone wanting to pinch it for their own website.

Company Stories

An umbrella term for anything inwardly focussed that you place on your blog. I'm a big believer that for a blog to be successful it should be primarily outwardly focussed and provide value to your audience. However, there's still plenty of room to plug yourself along the way.

Whether it's an official press release, case study or news article surrounding your latest charity event, your blog is the perfect place to share your company stories. It's the only place where you completely control the narrative and get to portray your company in your ideal way.

But use this type of blog post sparingly, nobody is itching to come back to check your latest company announcement - but they might stop by to have a look while reading something else.

If you're looking to start a company blog and don't know where to start, just get in touch. We offer a completely free consultation with no strings.

Originally published 2nd March 2021
Last edited 2nd March 2021

Written by Ollie Burt

Ollie Burt is a full-stack marketer and Director at Nova. A specialist in helping small businesses and startups succeed online, he enjoys running (and beer). You can find him on LinkedIn and Twitter.

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