The Importance of Visual Content

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As a small business owner, marketer, and website owner, you have to wear a lot of hats. You have to produce your products, deliver great customer service on a daily basis, and ensure you keep up with marketing techniques so you can effectively promote your brand. But unfortunately, in today's intensely competitive online world, it's not enough to simply have a website and promote yourself on social media. You also need to create some kind of a content marketing plan—such as a blog—and you should be integrating visual content into that plan. Now, you might be asking why you should be doing this. Maybe you've been writing a blog and you feel that you get enough shares, traffic, engagement, etc. from it already. Maybe you're more the type who enjoys reading than forcing your way through an infographic. Or maybe you haven't even started a blog and don't really see the point in having one.

Unfortunately, the numbers prove that images and videos—visual content—help sell products better than text alone.

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Image Source: Visually Social

Did you know that posts with videos attract 3 times more inbound links than plain text posts? Or how about that views of a published article go up 94 percent if they contain a relevant image or infographic when compared to articles without an image in the same category? Whether it's just a picture or a video, the studies show that visual content is important to the success of your content marketing strategy!

And it makes sense if you really think about it: Since the caveman days, people have been using pictures to communicate with one another! These pictures communicated needs, depicted family life, and told stories of hunts and conquests. When you think of it this way, it's easy to see that we have always loved to tell stories in creative, unique ways. Donna Moritz, an expert on modern-day visual content (not so much cave paintings). stresses that you can really hook your audience when you use images or video to tell a story or share a message. And she's right—you can use videos and images to create anything from how-to articles to images with bite-sized quotes, to informative infographics, to pictures offering tips and tricks. This makes your content more fun for your readers to share or pin to Pinterest boards. It also grabs attention in a stream of text on highly-utilized social media platforms, such as Facebook!

Images Vs Videos

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Is it better to use images or videos in your posts? Well, that depends on what you're trying to say with your message.

For example, according to a study cited on Hubspot, viewers are 85% more likely to purchase a product after watching a product video. You can use a product video to demonstrate how your product is used, how it is assembled, or how you can store it during a season when it's not likely to be used (a lawnmower during the winter, for example). But just because you use video, it doesn't mean that you should ignore static images. If you're writing an informative article, such as an “10 Ways to Keep Your Carpet Cleaner”, visuals would be immensely helpful to demonstrate your point. You can use a collection of images or put together a large infographic--whatever you think would work the best with your message. Need proof? The Hubspot article also notes that publishers who use infographics grow in traffic an average of 12% more than those who don't.

So, long story short: If your article could benefit from an infographic or video, you now know the stats. It's worth it!

Making Content Easier to Read

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Aside from helping to inform your readers and make your posts more interesting, images and videos also break up large blocks of text, making it easier for readers to navigate your article. Most people are pressed for time now, and they often skim articles while on their morning commute or while checking emails before work. Making concise sub-headlines as well as including photos helps keep their attention and explain what's happening more clearly. Choose attractive or funny photos, depending on your content. What do we mean by "attractive"? We mean that you should keep those boring, generic stock photos to a minimum. We do utilize them ourselves sometimes, but take it from us: Over time, we've learned that people respond much better to pretty or goofy photos than they do the generic “people pointing at a chart in a business suit” images. If you can supply photos you've taken yourself, then that's even better!

Whether you're just getting started with a blog or you've been around for a while, it's important to keep up with trends so that you can get the most out of your efforts. By implementing videos, infographics, and images where appropriate, you can bet that your posts will get more engagement—and you'll see more traffic and conversions as a result.

Back to Basics #24: How to Find Your Writing Voice

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If you've ever posted an update on a blog (or even thought of starting a blog!), then you've probably thought about how you would like to address your audience. Unless you're writing your own personal diary, it's absolutely necessary to figure out your writing voice—because how you appeal to your readers will have a direct effect on who chooses to come back to your blog, and who decides that it's not for them and navigates elsewhere. Whether you want to inform visitors about how to build and care for pools, or you'd like to provide tips on how to dress professionally for work, a blog can be a great place to start out. In this article, we'll go over some of the basic things you'll need to know to find your writing voice—and be well on your way to blogging success!

 

Define Your Audience

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This is probably another phrase you've heard before. But there's a good reason for it: It's the most important step to take before you begin publishing your posts. When you know who you're writing for, coming up with post ideas and defining your goals becomes much easier.

To define your audience, ask yourself:

  • Am I selling a product or service to someone?
  • If yes, what makes my product unique?
  • If not, what am I offering my visitors instead?

Once you know this, then you should think about:

  • What are my audience's interests?
  • What are their ages?
  • What is their education level?

And finally, you'll want to know some important personal data:

  • Where do most of my customers or visitors come from?
  • Are they male or female?

So, let's say you're selling handmade soaps to your visitors. They tend to be casual shoppers who are looking for an alternative to soaps made with chemicals. They are interested in health, beauty, and natural living. Most are female, from the United States, and tend to be from wealthy metropolitan areas. They are educated, and between the ages of 35-50. So with this audience, you wouldn't want to write in an ultra-casual manner like you would with, say, a vaping or e-cig store. That much should be obvious!

That's a lot of information you've gathered! But now, after all that hard work, you also have an incredibly well-defined audience. Knowing these statistics will help you come up with effective advertisements and well-informed posts that your audience will love to share. Plus, you'll easily be able to find topics popular with your audience and build your posts around those ideas. But first...

What is the Focus of Your Blog?

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Now that you know who you're writing for, you need to know what you want to write about. In our example, you'll be writing about health and beauty topics, particularly those linked to skin care—so you can really let your soaps be the star of the show. But even within this in mind, there are still a number of routes you could take. For example:

  • A how-to blog: How to make your own soaps, how to use natural soaps, etc.
  • A sales blog: Tips for better sales with natural products, or you can purchase a soap starter kit and be a part of the soap-selling team.
  • Better living blog: A guide on how to live frugally or lower your carbon footprint.
  • Beauty blog: A blog covering all kinds of new products, with the focus on your soaps and how they'll fit into a beauty routine.

As you can see, it can be a tough decision to make. But once you've chosen a theme for your blog, you'll want to stick with it. It can be confusing to readers to have a blog offering skincare advice in one post, and then how to make your own soaps in another. Chances are, these are two different audiences. (Although of course there could always be some overlap!)

What Purpose Does Your Blog Serve?

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Now, this might sound obvious, but you'll have to remember why you're writing a blog in the first place.

For many people, they want to start a blog to make an income. Others, however, want to add a blog feed to their existing website for a little extra information. Still others want to have a blog simply for search engine optimization purposes.

We're not here to tell you why you should have a blog—but you should know why before you begin this project! If you're aiming to make sales through your blog, you're going to have a different approach than you would if you were just using it to post occasional how-to articles and company updates.

So before you get posting, be sure to figure out exactly how your blog fits into your business and marketing plan.

How Much Time Do You Have?

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If you don't have a lot of time to update your blog, you're going to want to keep your posts simple and short. On the other hand, if you have a lot of time to devote to crafting articles, then you may want to write in-depth pieces. You may even want to add beautiful photographs that your viewers will want to share! It all depends on your schedule.

The short, to-the-point articles work great for company updates, brief how-to's, or making a “listicle” that is helpful to your visitors (For example, 3 ways to get snow off your roof without falling and hurting yourself!)

The longer articles work well for those who want to get really in-depth—like photos of those handmade soaps accompanying an in-depth article about the different uses of natural cleaners.

You might choose to mix and match, and that's fine, too. But make sure to realistically look at your schedule before you begin posting. You'll want to stick to the schedule you make, so if you think you're pushing yourself too hard, err on the side of safety and cut back on your posts.

So Now What?

So now that we've talked your ear off about how you can get everything ready for your blog, you can finally take a look at everything you have figured out and decide how you want to write. Your writing voice will probably come naturally once you know who your audience is. Most of us already know what our customers like, and if we don't, we can always ask for feedback to make sure we're doing everything right. Your job now is to make sure that you deliver your own, original, fresh content to your readers when you say you will. Stick to your schedule. Don't mix personal rants with your business updates. If you want to focus on how-to videos, don't throw in an article about why one brand of snow-blower is better than another.

If you're writing for mothers, don't use abrasive language. If you're writing for potential college students, appeal to their hopeful attitudes while assuaging fears of failure. If you're writing for people who test the strength of rebar, don't focus on the difficulties of the job—provide solid statistics and ways to interpret test results.

Finding your writing voice doesn't have to be difficult. It just takes a bit of time and research. And you know what? Once you've been blogging for a while, you will find that you naturally fall into that mindset as you write. Plus, you'll hear from your readers through blog comments, social media updates, or even emails, and they'll give you helpful advice to follow.

The Long and Short of It

To summarize:

  • Learn who your audience is and what they like.
  • Decide which topics will be the most important to your readers.
  • Determine whether your blog will be used to drive sales, supplement your marketing strategy, or simply provide regular company updates to readers.
  • Create a realistic schedule for updates—and stick to it!Use language appropriate to your audience.

Do you have any other tips? Let us know in the comments below!

Coming Up with Blog Post Ideas

Coming-up-with-blog-post-ideas If you've been keeping up with our blog posts, you know that we strongly advocate starting a blog of your own. The fact is, if you want to see your website ranking higher in search engines, then you need to be contributing regular, fresh, high-quality content to your site to stay in Google's good graces. But it doesn't just help with ranking, of course. Blogging can help you stay caught up in your industry's trends, as well as help you network with other professionals in your field.

But the inevitable problem with writing regular blog posts is that you'll eventually feel like you've talked about everything there is to talk about! After you've hit this roadblock, how do you overcome it? Do you take a break? Hire someone else to write for you?

No! Don't give up just yet!

Coming up with blog post ideas doesn't have to be difficult. With practice, you'll get better at finding topics from almost any resource. But if you need some ideas now, we're here to help. And the best part of all of these ideas is that they're completely free! What more could you ask for?

Think of a question you've had lately.

This might sound obvious, but it can be one of the simplest answers to your topic dilemma! Chances are that you've had a question about something in your industry—even if you're an expert—and you did some research to come up with an answer.

Well, the general rule of thumb is that if you have a question, someone else will too. And the best way to really learn something is to teach it to someone else. What better way to do that online than come up with an informative blog post?

Let's try an example. If you're a fencing contractor, maybe you're wondering about the best way to deal with an early frost. (I'm not a fence expert, so if this is really obvious, please forgive me—I'm just trying to illustrate a point!) After doing some research, you come up with an answer. Now why don't you write a blog post about your new-found knowledge and tell your customers how they can prepare for frost, deal with frost, or make sure their fences stay safe throughout the winter? There are a lot of topics you can come up with just by thinking about this one question.

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Have your customers asked you for help with anything?

This is somewhat related to the above point, but it's from a customer's point of view. There's something called the “curse of knowledge” when you're writing your own content. It works like this:

You are the expert on the subject you're writing about. This means that you have an advantage over your audience, especially if you're writing how-tos or informational posts about your area of expertise. This can blind you to your audience's level of understanding. You could be skipping over information you deem obvious, when it isn't obvious at all to your readers. Or you could be using terminology they're not familiar with because you don't even think twice about your verbiage, but they are not industry insiders, and therefore don't know the lingo.

So if your customers have come to you with questions that you think are too simple or dull to warrant a blog post, think again. You might have a great opportunity to really go the extra mile for some of your customers by simply writing a short blog post!

Seasonal events are an easy go-to.

Especially for contractors and retail stores. Are you running a seasonal promotion? Write about it. Do you have ideas why your products and services would make great gifts? Sell yourself in a blog post. Are there spcial weather-related or season-related events that could impact your business? Let your customers know.

Our fencing contractor could write about how to protect different kinds of fences from sleet and snowdrifts. A clothing boutique could talk about how their clothes make great holiday gifts. Even a pool contractor—someone who works primarily during the summer months—could post helpful articles about how to care for a pool in cold weather, or pitch spas and hot tubs instead!

Do a search in Google trends.

See what is going on around the web by doing a Google Trends search. Now, you may not have a particularly interesting or newsworthy profession—maybe you do demolition, for example. (Sorry, demolition experts!) Plug some terms into trends and see if people are searching for your topic. If they are, run a Google search yourself and see what recent news articles pop up. For example, let's run demolition through Google Trends:

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As you can see, it's a pretty steadily searched topic. Now let's run a Google search:

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That red arrow is pointing to a pretty interesting article. Maybe you can get some ideas from that topic and incorporate them into your own post! It's easy to do when you have inspiration that's already being provided by other content creators.

Check Quora.

Quora is a place where people go to ask questions, and then other Quora users will answer these questions. Just like with Google Trends, you can find things people are asking about. This doesn't mean you have to answer the questions (unless you'd like to!), but you can use these queries as a way to come up with blog posts. Oftentimes, users will be asking simple questions that you, as an expert, know the answers to. By reading through the existing questions, you'll know what people are wondering about without having to conduct a survey or tally up customer questions.

All of these ideas are completely free and easy to do. Even if you're not super blog-savvy, you can certainly improve your content creation by taking the time to learn a few of these tricks. After all, coming up with blog post ideas shouldn't be a terrible chore!

We hope these tips have been helpful for you and wish you luck with your blogging endeavors! If you have any other ways of coming up with topics, please let us know in the comments below!

How to Stay Motivated When You’re Feeling Discouraged

be-awesome-today Photo courtesy of Jessismoreblog.com

We’ve all been there: You’ve been working hard and trying to remain positive. You’ve been diligently maintaining your blog or vigilantly replying to customer reviews and encouraging engagement on social media.

But growth has been slow.

And one day, you wake up, and it hits you: You’re tired. You’re frustrated. You’re completely discouraged and don’t know what to do.

How to stay motivated when you’re feeling sad

Everyone is motivated by different things. Some people like watching happy movies. Some people look up inspirational quotes and pin them on their office walls. Still others turn to family and friends to support them during tough times. These are all great ways to stay motivated—personal connection and fostering positive feelings are some of the most basic human needs. Fulfilling these needs tends to put you back in the frame of mind to concentrate on your goals again.

But it doesn’t necessarily erase or push away those bad thoughts. And it certainly doesn’t make you feel like blogging or marketing again. Here are a few things you can consider to help you get back into the right frame of mind to take steps forward once more.

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Read.

Perhaps you’ve been in the wrong frame of mind for a while. Maybe your marketing strategy isn’t panning out because there’s an element to the unique formula for your success that’s missing.

Picking up a book relating to your problem can do just the trick. An author might tell a story about when they were discouraged and how they overcame it. They more than likely have some good advice to consider. And while this is all anecdotal evidence, it’s still worth it to read and consider what others have to say. Reading allows you to reframe discouragement into a fresh new view on the problem.

Write.

So you’re not a Pulitzer Prize-winning author. That’s okay. Sitting down and making a list counts as writing, as does writing an entire blog post. Something as simple as starting with “What frustrates me right now” and just free-writing your feelings can help you sort out your thoughts. Many people find writing to be cathartic, even if they don’t bother to publish their writings, or never even show anyone! This is what the point of a diary is, after all. But it can be useful for anyone, not just pre-teen girls.

Re-visit great times in your company’s history.

Did you host a BBQ once that was a great success? Did you hold a promotional event where a lot of customers showed up to your store and left happy? Can you remember how you felt when you first cut the ribbon at your store’s grand opening? Do you still have that first dollar you earned framed on the wall?

All of these things can evoke a positive emotion in you. It helps you remember that your hard work does pay off. You’ve had successes and you’ve had failures. You’ve had ups and downs. That’s okay—everyone does. Celebrate the times you’ve felt truly proud of your business and your successes, and soon you’ll remember why you do this in the first place. It’s a labor of love!

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Ask yourself what you’ve learned from your failures.

It is painful to think of the times we’ve failed: We released a product that fell flat. No one responded to our call for reviews. Worse, a customer lambasted you in a public forum despite you trying your hardest to please them, and you just can’t get them to change their mind or give you a second chance.

Well, you can’t please everyone. And there is no guaranteed formula for success when it comes to marketing.

But all successful people take their failures and turn them into a positive experience. By looking at them as learning opportunities, they can understand where they went wrong and learn to view it as a way to weed out the ideas and strategies that don’t work. Here’s a great quote from Thomas Jefferson to remember when you’re trying to learn how to value your less-than-successful endeavors:

I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work.”

Now that’s a great way to motivate yourself when you’re feeling down!

Find support forums online.

This one probably goes hand-in-hand with seeking support from family and friends, but it has the extra advantage in that it offers support in an anonymous space with unbiased people and advice.

Finding a small business support group can be immensely helpful for discouraged business owners. You can share stories with others and get advice on how to get through tough times. You won’t feel like they “have to” say these things (like you might when talking to your mother, friends, or spouse) and you’re getting advice from people who truly understand what you’re going through. This can provide a different perspective that you can use to bolster your confidence once again.

We hope you’ve found this at least the tiniest bit helpful! If you have any suggestions for how to deal with discouragement, please leave them in the comments below.

Back to Basics #5: Blogging for Beginners

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If you’ve never heard the saying “Content is King” then you’d better get used to hearing it now! When you run your own website, the best way to keep your clients up to date and to keep the search engines happy is to post new blog articles. Frequently.

Now, you may be thinking to yourself that you’re not a professional writer. Maybe you’re worried that that you simply don’t have time to update a blog. While you may be correct about not having formal training in writing, it’s more than likely not true that you don’t have the time to do this. You do. You just have to break it down into small chunks. In this article, we’ll talk a bit about how beginners can overcome the fear of putting their writing out there, and how they can find the time to keep updating regularly.

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Blogging for Beginners Step 1: Create a List of Topics

Before you begin blogging, it’s a good idea to have a list of potential topics to write about. You may be tempted to just write about what you’re up to when you’re at work, or maybe something that’s going on with your family. While it’s important to keep that human connection in your posts, it’s also important to keep your customers informed of key topics relating to the services you offer. To help illustrate, let’s take a fictional business and talk about a few good topics they could use in their blog.

Sam’s Pest Control is a small, family-owned company in Anywhere, USA. They want to start a blog to connect with their customers and draw in new clients. They might want to write about things like:

  • What pest control can do for your home or business
  • How you’ll save money in the long run when you use a pest control service regularly
  • How to keep your home protected from pests
  • Innovations in humane pest control
  • How pest control services change with the seasons

And there are probably many more topics to choose from. But as you can see, by thinking outside the box, you can come up with a long list of blog topics that will keep you writing for months to come.

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Blogging for Beginners Step 2: Create a Blogging Schedule

Continuing with our Sam’s Pest Control analogy, we’ll take a look at how to build a schedule that you can work with, even if you’re busy running your own business.

Sam works Monday through Friday, and often, he works overtime. He’s exhausted when he comes home and definitely doesn’t think he has hours to spare on blogging. He’s a business owner, not a writer—so how is he supposed to manage all of this?

It’s simpler than he thinks.

First of all, don’t worry about writing grammatically perfect posts. You can edit and use a spell checker and still make your point. Obviously you should try to edit your post so that it makes sense, but don’t presume you have to craft perfect prose to be a successful blogger for your small business.

Second, set aside 15 minutes a night. Write however much you can—a good goal to start with is 100 words. If you do this five days a week, you’ll have one 500-word post to put up by the end of your workweek. And keeping up the schedule of posting once a week is a very realistic, very achievable goal for small business owners. Whether you choose to do it after dinner or right when you get home is up to you. Just create that schedule and stick with it.

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Blogging for Beginners Step 3: Create Your Blog

Now that you have a list of topics and a schedule you WILL stick to (we believe in you!), you can go ahead and create your blog. Some people prefer to just update with text on their website. While this can work, it makes it difficult for people to find posts as you start to amass a lot of articles.

The better choice for a small business is to sign up for a free blog at Wordpress.com. You can also choose to go with other platforms like Blogger, but Wordpress has a lot of support and is widely used. In our experience, it runs more smoothly and has more customization options as well.

For your blog name, try to choose something short and to the point. Remember that this is connected to your company, so you’ll want to choose something relevant; something that conveys the company image. Sam’s Pest Control is, thankfully, a short enough company name that he can probably choose that. (It will end up looking something like samspestcontrol.wordpress.com.) If you have a longer company name (something like Sparkle Power Wash and Window Shine Company) you’ll want to shorten it to something that reflects your business’s services, such as “sparklewashco.wordpress.com” to keep customers from getting confused.

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Blogging for Beginners Step 4: Customize Your Blog

So you’ve claimed your blog and you’ve prepared lists for post ideas. Good! Now you have to customize your blog and get it set up for visitors to see.

One of the worst mistakes a beginning blogger can make is choosing a terrible layout. The colors are awful, music starts playing when you navigate to the page (hint: NEVER do that; at least give visitors the chance to press play if they’d like to hear the music), and the pictures don’t align correctly.

Thankfully, this is actually a very easy thing to avoid.

When you sign up with your blogging service, they’ll provide free layouts. You can choose from any one of these and make your blog look sleek and professional without having to know a word of coding. Furthermore, most allow you to customize colors, fonts, and pictures, so you can still make the blog look unique without sacrificing utility or aesthetics.

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Blogging for Beginners Step 5: Promote Your Blog

Once you have everything set up and you’ve written your first post, you’ll have to promote it. You could have the best blog post in the world, but if you don’t put it out there, no one will find it! The internet is a huge place and there are lots of people vying for the attention of clients, including your competition.

So how do you make sure that the right people see your work?

Post it on all of your social media channels. Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Pinterest, LinkedIn—whatever you use, make sure you post a link to your blog. Try submitting to StumbleUpon. Reach out to local press outlets if you have an announcement to make about your company—maybe you’re rolling out a new product, or maybe you’ve hired a new employee and you want to do an employee spotlight. Whatever the news is, you can contact local journalists or blogs and see if they’d like to cover your post.

Finally, make sure your existing customers know about your social media sites and your blog. Invite them to follow you or sign up for a newsletter and you’ll be surprised at how many people will be happy to oblige!

 

Good luck with your new blog! With regular contributions and some effort to get the word out, you’ll soon be seeing new visitors and increased interest in your small business. And if you need help with the marketing aspect of this, don’t hesitate to contact Internet Local Listings. We’re social media marketing experts and would be happy to help you market your site!