Why Am I Writing This Blog Post?

Image of Thomas Carlyle looking like he wants to know why am I writing this blog post.

Even Scottish philosopher Thomas Carlyle wonders why I wrote this blog post.

Why am I writing this blog post?  It’s a good question.  It’s also one I can (and will) answer.

Before I do, though, I have three questions for you, which for some reason came to me in a snotty-teen-Valley-Girl tone of voice, so that’s how I’m going to write my headers…

Why Do You Have A Small Business Blog?

Tell me why you have a blog.  Well, you don’t have to tell me, but do think about what your answer would be.  Do you want it to bring in more visitors to your website?  Do you blog because you want to demonstrate your expertise in some area?  Is it there to help you build a community around your product or brand?

Or even:  Do you blog because you heard that’s what you should do if you want to market online but don’t really know what blogging is all about?

Who Does That?

Next, do you have an ideal customer?  This could be a real person, or a fictional “customer avatar,” but it’s basically the idea of the kind of person you’re hoping will be influenced by your blogging activities.

For example, if your answer to the previous question was about building a community, the person you should think about would be the kind of person that would ideally be part of this community.  If your “why” answer was about showing off your authority in an area, who do you want to impress with your vast knowledge?

Got that real-or-fictional person in mind?  Good.

What Is Their Problem?

What is this person concerned about?  What questions do they ask?  If you chose a real-life person, or combined aspects of various people you know to make your fictional person, what are their common needs, problems, questions, anxieties, frustrations, or issues?

And to be fair, think of the flip side, too.  Do you know what they enjoy?  What delights them?  What makes them laugh?  It’s not all about problems, after all.

If you’ve been in business for a while, you’ve probably talked to a bunch of folks and know the most common answers.  Great.

What’d You Put Down For Question 3?

Okay, so here are my answers to the previous questions.

I have a business blog because I want to teach small business owners how they can use the Internet more effectively.  A secondary reason is that it can be a demonstration both of my expertise, and my ability to get the ideas across to those who aren’t techno-geeks…maybe even those who aren’t particularly comfortable with technology.

That, of course, is also a description of my ideal client: a small business owner (or maybe someone who’s not yet started), who knows the Internet has some powerful tools for marketing, but who would much rather help their customers than learn and play around with the technology.  Can you picture that person?  Sound like you or someone you know?

My full client avatar is actually a 53-year-old woman of color, too, but those attributes aren’t as crucial for my point here.  However, notice how you might find the lower interest in the online world, or higher anxiety about technology in general, in this demographic compared to the average white guy in his 20s.*

Finally, the problem usually focuses around some kind of question related to the online world.  That might be, “What is this whole social media thing?  I don’t get it.”

Or “How can I improve this page so that it gets more sales/subscriptions/etc?”

Or “Why are my online sales going down?  We haven’t done anything different.”

But the real problem is that often rather than finding out the real answer, my target client will guess and then act on it.  But the guess is often wrong.  And that leads to more problems.

Okay, So Why Am I Writing This Blog Post?

Simple.  To answer a frequently seen problem among my target audience, as a way to increase their marketing effectiveness.

See, lots of business bloggers, particularly if they’re running a solo- or micro-enterprise, think that blogging is just talking about stuff.  Whatever idea comes up that the owner thinks is interesting or cool or shows them off well is what they should be writing.  But while that’s sometimes the case, it’s often not.

What really matters is what the target market wants to see, not what the author wants to produce.

When sitting down to write your next blog article, then, think about those three questions.  What is the intended purpose of your blog?  What people help you with that purpose?  What do those people want?  Then write something that addresses that question, or issue, or desire.

In other words, shift your focus from yourself to your audience before even coming up with an idea of what to write.

Did this help?  Did you learn something, or at least get a different perspective on blogging?  Let me know in the comments.  (And if you really feel a burning desire to actually tell me what your blog’s purpose is, you can do that in the comments, too!)

* Also, if you find it troublesome that women and people of color are under represented in the world of technology, check out Black Girls Code, a nonprofit program I recently heard about and think is really cool.

Posted by Michael J. Coffey  |  0 Comment  |  in Blogging

7 Reasons to Learn Headline Writing

Illustration showing someone learning to write headlines, or at least writing something.

Why learn to write good headlines?

Originally, I was going to write an article on how to write a good headline for a blog post, but in doing a little research, I noticed two things: First, there are a lot of articles on that topic, and second, many give the why short shrift. While the how is certainly a useful skill to master, and one that I may still write myself about in the future, if you don’t understand what that skill will give you, you’ll never prioritize learning it.  I put together what I think are seven key reasons to learn headline writing.

1) Your headline is the article’s “first impression”

One of the statistics I’ve seen again and again is that roughly 80% of people read a headline, but only 20% go further. So if you work the basic idea of your article into the headline or title, you’ll actually reach a larger audience. For example, the title of this post: 7 Reasons to Learn Headline Writing. For the 80% of people who only read the headline, they’ll still go away understanding that there are many reasons to increase their skill in headline writing. That in itself might be enough to plant a seed in their mind, or adjust they way they think a little bit.

2) Learn headline writing and you’ll use it everywhere

When you learn to write good headlines, you’re learning a skill that can serve in a variety of situations. The same thing that makes a good blog headline also makes a good title for your white paper that you give away as part of your lead capture system. Or the title of the page where people subscribe to your email list. The same rules serve you well when writing email subject lines.  The skill applies to social media posts and image captions. Learn headline writing once, use it a thousand times.

3) Directly and positively impact your sales

Online experiments, something I do for my clients, can often show big gains when a headline is improved. One business I worked with experimented with the bold “headline” text on a coupon they used. One version used their usual positive tone, the other was more of a warning about something negative. The new version had significantly increased responses. In this example, we could actually measure how much more business the better headline had brought in, and that’s not an unusual thing to see when doing headline tests.

4) Sometimes the headline is all you can see

People share links all the time on social media.  Sometimes, the only thing that shows up in the preview is the title of the page. Guess what? Yup, another place the headline shows up. When people share your blog article with their friends on Facebook or Google+ or wherever, you don’t know how it will display because you don’t control your their sharing behavior.  However, almost all sites display at least the headline in link-type social posts.  Here’s an example of how one share of a link to this blog was shown on Facebook:

Facebook's display of a link showing only the headline; learn to write headlines well so when this happens people have a better chance of visiting

Notice that it didn’t pull any images from that page, and only a tiny amount of the text of the article.  The main thing people have to go on is that big text at the top, which happens to be part the title of the article.  This ties in a little bit to #1 on the list, but in the case of many “previews” on social media sites, it’s not that only 20% read the article, but that they actually can’t read the article unless they take the extra step of clicking on the link and opening it up. A good headline can actually make that happen, which leads us to…

5) A good headline drives action

When you want readers to do something, it’s often advised that you include a “call to action.” This is where you say, “Call now,” or “Click here,” or “Subscribe to get your free gift” or whatever, you’re calling people to action. Although CTAs are typically much shorter than a full headline, they draw from the same set of skills to engage readers and pull them in. So even if you’re not focused directly on sales, but rather getting more people looking at your stuff, sharing your content, or subscribing to your YouTube channel, good headline writing will help with all those goals as well.

6) Search Engine Optimization

Search engines aren’t really that smart. They’re improving a lot, but they’re still just machines. How do you help the search engines understand what your article is about so that they are more likely to show it in the search results of your target market? You bet, you write better headlines. There are lots of things that impact what pages show up where on the search results, but the title of a page and its major headlines are a couple of the big ones. Why? Because search engines want to show results that are relevant to the searcher’s needs, which means the search engine needs to “understand,” at some level, what the page is about. What better way than using what humans do to get a sense of an article–look at the headline! Your headline writing will help you reach not only the humans you’d like to connect with, but also the computers who can help you do that.

7) There’s some fascinating psychology involved

This one’s just kind of fun. It’s not necessarily about your business directly, but human beings are kind of interesting.  Marketers and writers, and all those other folks who regularly have to write effective headlines, have learned all kinds of quirks about human behavior. For example, earlier I mentioned the experiment comparing a positive and negative headline. I was not surprised that the negative one came out on top because psychologists have found that the fear of loss is about twice as strong in most people than the desire for gain. (Test this out on yourself: if a stranger came up and offered to give you $10 if a coin flip comes up heads, but you’d have to give him $10 if it came up tails, would you take it? What if he’d give you $20 if you won, but you only had to give him $10 if you lost?) These are the sorts of things you’ll end up learning about when building your headline writing skills. And that’s kinda fun.

While it’s not specifically about learning headline writing, this recent article about a “social network mind trick” from Kelsey Libert on the blog is just such an interesting tidbit of psychology that I’m talking about.

Posted by Michael J. Coffey  |  0 Comment  |  in Blogging, Email & Lead Capture

They Had More Fun Learning Than I’d Have Imagined

Having some fun learning about blogging

Having some fun learning about blogging

The premise of telling a bunch of business owners the mechanics and strategies of blogging as a marketing strategy doesn’t immediately bring up mental images of having fun learning and a room filled with lots of laughter. However, that’s exactly what happened at last week’s “Better Business Blogging” class.  It was taught by me, hosted at InsideWorks, and attended mainly by some of the kick-ass businesswomen associated with But that just goes to show you: get the right people together and even the most dry topics can become ridiculously fun.

How did it end up that way? Well, one topic that moved us off the ‘boring’ path was when we talked about pictures. One attendee, in building a company culture that emphasizes team rather than hierarchy, decided to only use people wearing masks when they took company photos. We talked about the positives of actual human faces, but there’s certainly an element of Mardi Gras that comes to mind when you think of everyone at work in masks, right?

I may have influenced you a little earlier on by suggesting that the class was just “telling.” As a teacher, I realize that there’s a lot of telling that has to happen if a class is going to cover material at any kind of speed, but learning needs to be interactive. Evidence shows that having fun learning (or really any of the emotional reaction that interaction can evoke) helps to increase attention and cement the learning in the brain. Interaction is also a good element to add to your blog, which is why you often see blogs with questions at the end, or a challenge, or a call for comments. Let’s just say that with this group last week, it didn’t take much to get the interaction going. Some audiences are a little slow to warm up, but not this crowd. We got some great ideas flowing. notwithstanding the occasional suggestion of using “Tumblr style pictures” to boost traffic (our in-class euphemism for more racy and salacious content).

The real reason it was such a blast, though, was that it was a partnership. Not only was I interested in help them, but they didn’t just sit passively and absorb what I said before going home. Instead, they were active in (warning: jargon!) co-creating the learning experience. For a creator of content, that’s always a joy. When the students are clearly taking what’s being presented, thinking about it, connecting it to their own situation, and using that to generate even more stuff—whether ideas, or deeper questions, or whatever—that’s what makes teaching rewarding.  When students are having fun learning, the teacher usually has more fun teaching.

In the end, the class was a blast. It was hugely successful. I mean, going into it I didn’t expect that we’d all get so into the ideas of interaction, and getting people involved, and using human faces in blog photos that the whole “Charlie’s Angels” thing would happen. But it did, and there’s the proof! (Though I don’t think John Bosley wore a bow tie, did he?)

Posted by Michael J. Coffey  |  0 Comment  |  in Blogging

What is a Business Blog For? Choose a Strategic Goal!

Kristian Berge creating content, like you should for your business blog.“Every business should have a blog!” Lots of marketing people, business consultants, SEO experts, and more have said this—maybe even to you. Heck, I might have said it, although probably not in so stark a way for reasons you’ll see in a minute. It’s a common belief, even among people who don’t have one, that a blog is necessary for business. And it is…and it isn’t. That’s why I wrote this article: to explain the common question, “what is a blog for?” After all, you don’t want to start a business blog unless you know why you’re doing it, and what it’s supposed to do for your business.

First, What Is Blogging?

A brief introduction for those who have heard the term but are a little fuzzy on what it means: a blog (short for “web log”) is like a journal, only public.  It can be like a personal journal where you write your thoughts and experiences.  It can also be like a professional journal where articles on a particular theme or subject are published.  There is software that can be installed on your own server, or you can use software that’s installed on someone else’s.  But in either case, you would use this software like a word processor to write your articles and then “publish” them—put them on the Internet for visitors to see.

From a business perspective, this gives you another online “place” for people to see your business, and for your expertise to shine or your marketing message to be shared.  To “do” blogging, you just need to write things, create imagery, or both.  When you have created that content and published it on your blog, you are blogging!

Crucial: Goals for a Business Blog

The answer to “what is a blog for” really has to do with your goals.  Don’t create a blog until you figure out what you want it to do for your business because making the right choices about how you set it up and what you publish will depend on the goal.  As Lewis Carroll put it in Alice in Wonderland:

“Alice came to a fork in the road. ‘Which road do I take?’ she asked.
‘Where do you want to go?’ responded the Cheshire Cat.
‘I don’t know,’ Alice answered.
‘Then,’ said the Cat, ‘it doesn’t matter.”

All of the following can be valid goals for a blog.  There may be more, but if any of these align with what you’re looking for, great.  You can just pick from the list.  Here’s a caution, though: Don’t Pick More Than 3.  The fewer goals you have, the more focused you can be.  The more focused you are, the fewer things you need to do to be successful.  From a strategic point of view, then, you’re better off not saying, “They all look great!  Those are all my goals!”  Rather, you should be thinking, “My blog exists to do X, so I will stop worrying about doing anything that won’t get me closer to that end.”

List Building:  Perhaps you’ve decided that a key to your success is having a large database of potential customers.  You want to use your blog to draw in new people and encourage them to subscribe to your newsletter or create a free account.  (Having a big list of potential customers is generally a good thing for all businesses, but is increasing the size of your list your primary focus?)

Establishing Credibility:  Are you new to the industry?  In a new business?  Publishing things that show off that you know what you’re talking about can improve your perceived expertise or credibility.  If you want your potential clients, or even the media, to feel comfortable contacting you as an authority in your subject, this could be a good goal.

Search Engine Optimization:  There are quite a few ways that a blog can help you show up higher on the search engine results pages, from  (because really, how often do you even see page 2?)  But worrying about SEO isn’t a very good choice if most of your clients find you through word of mouth.  That’s an entirely different type of marketing and spending your time on SEO would be a waste of effort.  And if a web search is where your likely clients find your business, it might be effort well spent.

Advertising:  If you’re selling ads on your site (or using a service like AdSense to do the selling for you), you’re interested not in subscriptions or credibility but raw traffic so that there are more people looking at your ads.  There are quite a few people whose entire business is this one goal–post blogs that attract traffic and earn money when some of them click on the associated ads.  That could be your business model, or maybe you just want to supplement your income from something else your business does.

Education:  Are there things you need people to know?  A goal could be to educate your audience—about your product, an issue, a topic, or whatever.  Perhaps you post educational videos, or how-to articles because your business runs smoother (or you reduce the cost/effort of customer service complaints) if your clients know this information before they start working with you or after they’ve made a sale.

Direct Sales:  Each post can be an attempt to sell something.  Developers have created ecommerce plugins for many blogging platforms to make this easy.  There are certainly challenges to this approach because it can come across as high-pressure sales and turn people off, but with the right offerings and the right target audience, it can work.  (I’m thinking of the start of which had only one product—a different one each day—at a great price.  It had its fans coming back every day to see what today’s product was.)

Assisting Your Sales Process:  Even if you don’t want the blog to sell directly, it can be used to move people along your sales funnel.  This could be done using many of the other goals as needed; for example, a sales person might send a potential customer a link to a blog article that addresses one of their concerns.  That’s assisting sales, but could also be education or establishing credibility, depending on the concern in question.  The focus, though, is slightly different.  You would be paying relatively more internal attention to what would be helpful for your various sales stages rather than the external “what do people on the Internet want?”

Building Relationships:  A large number of businesses are recognizing the importance of building relationships with past, current, and future customers.  A blog can act as a kind of forum for building a community.  That community and relationship building can happen through conversation in the comments on a post, or across blogs and other online media (a reader of your blog could link to your article from a post on their own blog, for example, or the post could spark social media conversation).

There we go!  I hope that gives you some ideas about what a blog can be used for in your business.  Once you have that in place, you have a guide to narrowing your options and eliminating a good deal of information overload about your online marketing.  “Does it help me do X?  No?  Then I’ll ignore it because it’s the wrong path.”  A good strategic choice.

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Posted by Michael J. Coffey  |  0 Comment  |  in Blogging
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