There are lots of posts and articles about why adopting a blog for your small business is a good idea — how it’s good for customer retention, lead generation, and serves as an effective way to build links and rankings in the search engines. But if you’re a small business owner, the thought of launching that blog may be a bit intimidating. Where do you start? How much content should you have stored up? What do you do the first few days after your launch?
If I were launching a new blog today (and I often am), here’s a short checklist for where I’d start.
Study: Study the other bloggers in your niche, learn about the hot topics in your community, figure out where your customers are hanging out, identify who the leaders are, and read up on some of your favorite writers and the people whose voices you’d like to emulate. You’ll find that a lot of your writing is affected by what you read. Seek out the good people and follow them.
Start building buzz: From the moment you decide you’ll be starting a blog, you want to work on creating buzz around it. Put up a placeholder on your site. Start talking about it on Twitter. Put teasers in your email newsletter and on Facebook. Start mentioning it to local business owners. Everyone should know that a blog is coming and they should be excitedly awaiting your arrival. Get to know the top 15-20 blogs and bloggers in your space and start commenting on their sites to help get you on their radar. Introduce yourself and ask for advice on getting started. People love talking about themselves. Use it.
Secure the appropriate accounts: KnowEm.com is great, but that’s not what I’m talking about. I mean the sites that are going to help you create the necessary benchmarks to help you track your blog’s growth. Yes, you’ll want to use a service like KnowEm.com to take care of your social media presence, but you’ll also want to get your blog set up with Google Analytics, claim it in Technorati, and register with Feedburner so you can keep track of important traffic numbers, RSS subscribers, page views, the keywords searchers are using to find you, etc.
Get your house in order: Thanks to your excellent buzz building, excitement over your blog will reach fever pitch the day of your announcement, so take advantage of the influx of readers. Make sure your RSS button is in plain sight so that people can subscribe when they land on it. Put up a compelling call-to-action if you’re looking to secure emails for a newsletter. Take steps to make it easy for users to share your content, both via email and the social networks. It should be easy to leave a comment and easy enough for people to figure out how to do so. All this needs to be set up before you get that first visitor on your site.
Create a content strategy: I write for multiple blogs so I’m a big fan of editorial calendars. I think it’s really important for a new blogger to have content laid out for the first month, two months of the blog. Doing so takes away the panic of having to come up with great content on the fly and allows you to control what you’re publishing, how often you’re publishing, and what audiences you’re going after. You should also be planning linkbait-type pieces to complement whatever type of link strategy you’ll be running. It’s a lot easier to promote a new blog when you don’t have to balance it with the actual writing.
Seed content: Along the same lines, you want to have some seed content (no less than three posts) already up before you officially launch your blog. If you’re an established blogger or person in your community, this may not be necessary; otherwise, it is. You need to have quality and engaging content up when you first announce your blog – something that tells people who you are, sets the tone for posts to come, and engages their interest enough that they’ll want to subscribe. There’s a quiet before the storm right before a blog launch … take advantage.
Decide: Ads or No Ads?: People will fight me on this, but I say no ads. If you’re a corporate blog, you need to be about the content and nothing but the content. Don’t let people question why you’re here and your motives. Make it clear that you’re about the community, sharing information, and letting people know what you’re about. Don’t turn off potential readers (and customers) by throwing AdSense all over your new blog.
Build your promotional team: Once you’ve launched your site, you need to call on those buzz-building groups you’ve hopefully established earlier to help you spread your content. Reach out to your contacts on Twitter and get them sharing your news. Start talking to people on your niche social media sites. Start guest posting on other blogs to drive traffic back to yours. Form partnerships with folks in your local and virtual communities. Create your street team.
Comment on other blogs, message boards and forums: The best way to promote your new blog is to realize that no man is an island. Let people know you exist by going out into the community and being a good citizen. Comment on other industry blogs and link your name back to your own to encourage people to follow it back (don’t ask them to do this!). Participate in industry forums and message boards and be helpful when you can. Get active in social media. Be as visible as you can without tiring yourself out and diluting your efforts.
Respond to comments on your own blog: While you’re out there being active in the community, don’t forget to nurse your own garden. When someone comments on your blog, respond to it. Maybe follow back to their blog and leave a comment (if it warrants it) on one of their posts. If you see someone retweeting one of your posts, say thank you and maybe retweet theirs the next time around. Being a good citizen provides a lot of karmic benefits that you won’t immediately realize. But they’re there; keep doing it.
If I were launching a blog today, those are the top ten things that would be on my checklist for Things to Do. Does your differ?