I really hate the word blogging.
Blogger is even worse.
I’ve seen a parody of a motivational poster online that captures why I the words make me cringe.
The picture shows two people standing on a ledge in the desert. The landscape dwarfs them. The caption reads, “BLOGGING: Never before have so many people with so little to say said so much to so few.”
I challenge anyone to deny there’s at least a kernel of truth depicted here.
Yet I believe in the power of blogs and I firmly encourage the financial advisors I work with to create content to post on their sites. And here I am, blogging away, writing my own blog post, nattering on with my blogger hat on to stretch the little I have to say over a couple thousand words to a few thousand people.
So how do I reconcile my hypocritical views?
My problem isn’t actually with blogging itself. It’s when people misuse this powerful tool — and then dismiss the idea of content marketing entirely as ineffective.
There’s a Difference Between Shouting into a Void and Sharing Valuable Content
Many people who blog lack direction, knowledge on best practices, and understanding of how to translate thoughts into compelling content.
As a result, they lack readership and engagement. They add to the noise and make it harder for the readers who are out there to find and engage with great content.
It’s a shame, because you do have great stories, messages, and knowledge to share with people in a way that can increase your influence, grow your audience, and help get prospects in the door.
A successful blog is one that pinpoints a problem to solve, a pain point to alleviate, a delight to provide, or an opportunity to uncover for its readers.
If you just harp on about what’s important to you, you’ll always find yourself shouting into a void. If you can learn how to create content that an audience wants, you can make your blog work for you.
Know Your Audience and What They Want
What is it that you have to say that other people want to hear, talk, or learn about?
That’s not a rhetorical question. You need to know how to answer it.
That means doing some work to find the actual answer. You don’t just get to make something up from your own brain.
Believe me, I’ve tried. I spent years guessing what people would want to read. The problem was, it was all based on what I thought would be interesting. As it turns out, “I” am not the thousands of people who are doing the actual reading on my site.
Seems pretty obvious, but most people simply don’t know their audience and focuses on guessing what they want rather than doing the work to find out.
We guess, we deliver, and then we wonder why it didn’t connect.
But knowing your audience is key if you want to create content that gets read. Go beyond guesses with these specific strategies to know exactly what people want:
- Send out a survey to your email list. You can create a survey using a tool like SurveyMonkey. To get responses, limit your questions to 3-5 and give multiple choice options. For example, you could ask what do you want to learn more about? And the answers could include things like “planning for goals,” “investing my money,” “paying off my debt,” and so on. You can ask more specific questions to your network and connections to learn about their problems, what questions they have, or what challenges they want to solve. (Try sending out an email with a single question — you may get more responses than overwhelming unwilling participants with a lengthy survey.) Then write your content to address what they tell you.
- Set up “customer conversations.” This is a tactic that online biz-building resource Fizzle suggests. Design 8 to 10 open-ended questions, and set up meetings with people who represent those you want your business to reach (and resonate with). Then, ask your questions — and sit back and listen to the answers. The idea is to let your interviewee speak openly and freely about whatever comes up for them. After conducting a few of these conversations, compare your notes. Do you see any trends or patterns? Any phrases that were used by more than one person? These are things that can help you better understand your audience, how they think, and most importantly, the language that makes sense to them.
- Pinpoint who you want to talk to. Create customer avatars from your conversations, and from demographics and psychographics. This will help you visualize a single person in your mind when you’re writing content. You want to write to this individual person and speak to them directly. Demographics are things like age, gender, and location. Psychographics are things like personal preferences, habits, and beliefs.
- Research to see what content your customer avatar currently consumes. In considering your audience, you want to know where they already hang out. What kind of content do they like — written posts, short videos, long podcasts? Once you understand how they prefer to enjoy content, you’ll want to align your efforts with those preferences.
Best Practices for Readable Content
Throwing a jumble of your thoughts into a post and calling it a day is, unfortunately, not going to cut it. Even if the meat of the content is what your audience truly wants to read, you need to take a few more steps so it’s enjoyable to consume.
That includes writing in a way that’s:
- Empathetic. Your post should be about what readers want or need. It should not push your agenda. It should also show understanding of how they think and feel. Write in language that resonates with them, not industry jargon.
- Helpful. Provide the complete picture and try to leave no stone unturned. Be thorough and present all the information readers might need to get what they want or need.
- Valuable. Always seek to solve a problem, offer a solution, provide more knowledge, or serve as a source of delight.
- Authentic. Write in your own, unique tone and voice. This is what will hook a reader and encourage them to engage in a discussion or share your content. Write like you talk.
- Relevant. Your audience comes with a lot of needs and problems to solve, but you’re here to solve a few specific ones. If you’re a financial advisor and your blog is about how to invest, writing about your life as a parent may be interesting — but it’s coming out of left field for most readers. Find another platform to share content that isn’t relevant to your blog’s primary purpose.
It also means thinking about some practical considerations, like how you format the post before you publish. Here are specific tactics to employ when you write and publish content online:
- Use headings and subheadings.
- Use organizational formatting to create a visually appealing and skimmable post (bullet-point lists like this one help).
- Break up your text (think 2-sentence paragraphs and yes, I know this can feel funny especially if you’re highly educated and conditioned to dealing with research papers or academic writing. But it’s essential online, because people tend to skim and will simply move on from blocks of text that look intimidating on a screen.)
- Don’t use jargon, verbose language, or drone on and on. Don’t use five words when one will do.
- Include calls to action (or CTAs). Ask a question, invite people to share the article or sign up for a guide that goes along with the post, or encourage them to schedule a call with you to learn more.
If You Build It, They’re Not Gonna Come
If you don’t want to blog into a vacuum, you need to know your audience and what they want. Then, when you write on those topics, you need to follow a few basic guidelines to create content people want to read — and can easily consume.
Taking these actions gets you a long way toward building a blog that people show up to read. But creating content is truly less than half the battle.
You also need to promote it.
Here are a few methods to use to start sharing your content in a way that expands your reach and pulls in new readers:
- Republish your content everywhere you can. For blog posts, you may want to publish on your LinkedIn Pulse or start a Medium account.
- Get involved with communities like Reddit. Find an appropriate subreddit and engage with people there (there are lots of finance-related ones!). When you create relevant content, you can share it here. The key here is to get involved first and only post when you have something of value to add. Reddit can be brutal if you’re overly self-promotional or come across as spammy. And you can do this on any forum or community — it doesn’t have to be Reddit.
- Get on social media. This is an entire discussion onto itself, but for now, here’s what to do: choose a platform you enjoy using. Dive deeply into it and commit to growing a following there. Engage (and be social!) and periodically share your content there.
- Collaborate. Reach out to other people and see how you can work together. Can you contribute to their blog with a guest post? Can you provide a tip for a crowdsourced post they’re creating? Can you serve as an expert source for their next article? Cold emailing can get results, and warm emails (where you have some sort of connection before you reach out) does even better. But both are most effective when you seek only to add value and help the person on the other end of the line. In turn, you may get an opportunity to expand your own reach and get in front of a new audience through the help you offered.
- Pitch yourself. Don’t be afraid to pitch yourself and your work. Look at media outlets that syndicate content, and contact their editor to ask if they might want to add your content (with links back to the original source) to their rotation. Reach out to people who host shows on TV, radio, podcasts, and online video platforms and ask if they need help filling a guest roster (and explain how you can serve as a subject matter expert). Again, always seek to add value and put someone else’s needs ahead of your desires to promote yourself. Through a genuine interest in serving others, you’ll gain access to new and bigger platforms from which you can share your own content.
Stop Blogging into a Vacuum and Get Your Words Read!
These tactics, strategies, and action steps are all important to know and use. But a large part of successful blogging comes down to a few factors that you can’t really hack: time and consistency.
Building an audience takes time. Creating a following demands persistence and patience. You must show up, do the work, and keep at it for months — even years.
Like much else in content marketing, blogging success isn’t the result of a single action. It’s a process.
The longer you stick to creating content people want to read, the more traction you’ll gain. That’s because your work builds an entire ecosystem in which your readers, prospects, and eventual clients can journey through and discover, once piece at a time.