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the top tens

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Blogging an essential way for businesses to engage with past, current and potential customers. It's a way to share ideas, impart information, solicit feedback and connect with entire communities of stakeholders. So what could go possibly wrong? Well, lots if you do it poorly.

Here are ten things to keep in mind when blogging for your business:

1. Don't overlook the importance of blogging in core marketing initiatives. Many companies view blogging as an afterthought; something to do once all of the 'real' work has been done. This is a mistake. In order for your blog to be effective, it needs to be treated as an important aspect of your business.

There are many ways to limit the amount of time that blogging takes. Make it a company mandate that employees write a post every month, for example, which allows you to leverage internal knowledge to create fresh content, while not taking up too much employee time. Another good idea is to have blogging meetings, where you have a number of employees write as much as they can within an hour in the same room.

2. Using the same format time and again? Don't be afraid to switch it up. People absorb information in different ways, and using a variety of methods will allow you to appeal to varied tastes.

One common blogging myth is that a post needs to be a certain length. This simply isn't true. If you have something to write about, write about it. Don't let a word count limit you. And don't think you need to stick to a particular template; experiment with different ways of presenting information -- such as incorporating an infographic, audio or video for example.

3. Keep your tone and brand voice consistent. Even though you may have multiple writers contributing to your company's blog, you should ensure that the blog's overall tone consistently reflects your brand. Ask yourself: Is your brand informal, fun, or edgy? Or is your brand personality more formal and to the point?

Different writers are bound to have different writing styles, but ultimately the blog exists to reflect your brand. Create a tone/best practices guide for your blog to help guide each writer. This will help ensure the voice of your brand is presented consistently throughout every post.

4. Be discriminate about guest bloggers. Guest blogging can help build brand credibility, community, and your customer base. It can also help you build relationships with people outside of your core business and get your content in front of new audiences. That said, it's important to be strategic about which guest bloggers you get. There has been a rise in people offering guest blogging in order to build links cheaply, and this can be harmful to your blog. Make sure you seek out guest bloggers who are well-respected and authoritative, produce high quality content and add value.

5. Include calls to action (CTAs). They're important because they can help direct readers to other relevant information, encourage your audience to move further along the sales process, and ultimately increase conversion rates. Be sure to include relevant CTAs in every post so it's easy for your audience to move from one piece of content to the next relevant piece. At the very least, each blog post you publish should have a CTA relevant to the post included at the bottom, but including one above-the-fold isn't a bad idea either – this gives readers with a shorter attention span an option for exploring what your company has to offer without having to continue reading.

6. Promote other blogs. It's not a bad idea to give other blogs a nod when they produce high-quality, useful content. In fact, it can help you build new relationships that could be mutually beneficial for both you and the blog you choose to promote. If you see a great post that you think will be relevant to your audience, don't be afraid to tweet or post it on your Facebook. Your interest in that bloggers' content may well be reciprocated by way of future acknowledgement and that helps your brand reach a completely new audience through an endorsement from a trusted source.

7. Open up. This doesn't mean you should start blogging about cars if you sell clothing. It means that you can often find topics that are timely and interesting to your readers that are not directly related to your core business functions. For example, HubSpot, a company that offers inbound marketing software, recently did a post on the rise of feminist stock photography. It has nothing to do with marketing automation, but it does resonate with their marketer-based audience. Great bloggers find this variety by looking for content sources outside of industry publications, as long as they are high-quality, innovative and interesting.

8. Add value to the news of the day. It's important to know what others are saying about the news of the day or a particular subject. It's equally important to add to the conversation, not just regurgitate what everyone else is saying. Your blog can be meant to act as a voice of authority on a subject, but if you're not contributing anything valuable or unique, you will not be able to establish authority among the search engines. By providing deeper insight, other blogs, websites or social media channels may link back to you and cement your credibility on the subject.

9. Engage. Putting your thoughts out publically means anyone can read them, praise them, criticize them or do nothing at all. Your blog should welcome that and allow a platform for engagement. By encouraging potential discussion and giving readers an opportunity to provide feedback – whether it's positive or negative - you show an interest in connecting, hearing ideas, and understanding where there may be considerations or needed improvements. While allowing comments will open you up to unwanted criticism, not allowing them could demonstrate that you have something to hide or are not interested in anyone else's opinions. And often times, in the digital world, restricting access and staying quiet, becomes a rallying point for everyone else.

10. Check spelling and grammar. This may be common sense, but many people still don't use spellcheck and they don't edit their posts closely. By posting a blog with spelling and grammatical errors you defeat its purpose almost immediately. Your audience will quickly tune out and you will lose any credibility and authority you have built up. Use spellcheck, have someone else with fresh eyes read it over and make sure it's clean before posting. Structure, formatting, flow and quality of writing all factor in.

With each blog post, ask yourself this question: if this post was the only thing influencing a potential buyer's decision to choose my company, would I want them to read it? If the answer is no, then you need to make improvements.

Jeff Quipp is the founder and CEO of Search Engine People Inc. (SEP), Canada's largest digital marketing firm, which has been on the PROFIT 500 ranking of Canada's Fastest Growing Companies for the past five consecutive years.

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