Image by Blake Patterson via Flickr

What’s Wrong With My Blog?

Everyone and their cat seems to have a blog, but some cats are better at it than others. Why is it that Grumpy cat, L’il Bub and Henri Le Chat Noir can amass tens of thousands hits of followers while you struggle to bring in any readers after sending your carefully crafted words out into cyberspace?

In the vastness of the Internet, a blog is literally one among more than 100 million. On WordPress alone, bloggers post 64.8 million new posts a month. Microblogging site Tumblr boasts nearly 100 billion posts since it was founded in 2007.

Millions of businesses, particularly those with limited marketing budgets, count on a blog to connect with customers. But with all that noise, many are wasting time and effort on underperforming blogs. If you cringe every time you look at your analytics, here’s how how to figure out what’s wrong with your business blog.

Find your audience

The first challenge in fixing a broken blog is figuring out who the right audience is. After all, if you don’t know who they are, you can’t determine why they’re not clicking.

If you have some budget to spare, consider investing in some professional audience research. But we understand that you’re probably reading this post because you’re on your own when it comes to fixing this problem. So here are some tips that should help you find your audience:

  • Using your email list and a user-friendly survey tool (like Survey Monkey), ask your existing customers about what they search for, read, and share online.
  • Brainstorm blog ideas with your team members who are in the closest contact with your customers, like salespeople and customer support representatives.
  • Search for key phrases related to your business, and scan for the leading blogs. Follow those blogs on social media, paying close attention to who is engaging with their online community.

Find interesting topics

Find a topic that you’re knowledgeable and interested in and create some engaging content, answering questions that people want answers to.

You can figure out what people are chatting about in various areas through Quora, which lets you search a topic and see what questions are being asked about it. There’s also BuzzSumo, which lets you search a topic or domain name and find the most shared content for it. Create a Mention or Google Alert for the topic to see what others are saying.

Once you have your topic, you have to find people to read your work by going to the communities where they interact and join the conversation:

  • Check out online forums and Reddit threads.
  • Leverage existing social networks to find relevant Twitter chats, Facebook groups, LinkedIn groups, Google+ communities, Instagram hashtags, etc.
  • Step into the real world. It’s easy to neglect reaching out to people in real life. But, specialty conferences—like FinCon for personal finance bloggers—and other real-life meetings can help expand your reach.

Understand SEO

Some people consider search engine optimization (SEO) some kind of dark art designed to game the search system, but it’s really about figuring out what your audience is looking for, and meeting that need. If you understand SEO, you can help search engines like Google direct more traffic to your blog by highlighting keywords that users are likely to search for.

You can scour Google trends to find trending topics on any given day or search for how frequently specific keywords are searched over time. You can also check trending topics on Twitter and Facebook, and LinkedIn’s Pulse for more direction on what’s trending.

Include these keywords in your headline, URL and hyperlinks—all things search engines scour to find the best content for users. Don’t forget to name your images with keywords because Google’s spiders also crawl image titles.

It also helps your SEO if other blogs link back to your work via the aptly named backlink. You don’t have much control over whether other bloggers direct traffic over to you, but there are somethings you can do to help your case:

  • Comment on well-established blogs in your topic area. The good news is that comments count as backlinks and the content they contain is completely within your control. Make sure to sign up for a Gravatar account so your comments show a professional photo of you and link back to your site.
  • Write guest posts. Contact established bloggers and pitch a guest post to feature on their site and arrange for your bio in the post to link back to your site.
  • Feature your relevant content. Include backlinks to your older pieces in new blog posts. You can feature these as bulleted related links or as in-text hyperlinks.
  • Share your work on social networks and encourage others to do so. Social shares count as backlinks too.

Of course, producing engaging, original content will also likely prompt others to want to backlink to your posts.

Don’t ramble

Have you made it this far in the blog post? There is no magic number for how much material readers consume in one article, but research generally shows the total is abysmally low—in the 20-30 per cent range. Some people, like Seth Godin, have even made a name for themselves with ultra-short blog posts.

Others stick to longer blog posts, swearing by 2,000 words per piece for SEO purposes. They reason that the more content, the more there is for Google’s spiders to catch. SerpIQ found that 1,500 words tends to be the best count to rank higher in Google searches.

But, don’t get too hung up on length—short, in-between, or long—when content is king. After all, it’s the content and not the length that will gain you highly valued backlinks and social shares.

At Hootsuite, we try to make sure every post is the length it needs to be to get all the information, and not a word longer. Full disclosure: This blog post is 1558 words.

Post frequently

Like length, there are no hard and fast rules for posting frequency.

Some blogs publish multiple times a day and others only once a month, but experts and successful bloggers tend to stress a few things when it comes to blog post schedules:

  • Be consistent. Set up a content calendar that works for you—whether that’s once a week or every Monday, Wednesday and Friday—and stick to it so your readers know when to expect new material.
  • Correlate length with frequency. If you’re an infrequent blogger, perhaps throwing up a 200-word piece monthly isn’t the best strategy. Experts suggest longer, well-researched posts for infrequent writers.
  • Provide strong content. Are you tired of hearing that content is king yet?

Give your readers a break

To be more visually inviting, consider breaking up your text. No one likes clicking a link and running into a wall of words.

Website design is important, but so is blog post layout. Experts say that people respond better to a combination of visual and text information—with 40% of people responding better to visuals.

So, it’s no surprise that images get people to engage more with content. Photos perform best for likes, comments and shares, one study of 1.3 million posts of Facebook’s most popular pages found.

When you share your content on social networks with photos from your blog post, those images can help you get much desired shares. One study found verified Twitter users were retweeted 35% more when their initial Tweet included a picture.

You can find great photos to use (with appropriate credit) from Flickr’s creative commons, Getty Images and Death to the Stock Photo—among other free stock photo sites. Just don’t forget to give the sites and photographers appropriate credit.

Write better headlines

Crafting a strong, SEO-ed headline is an artform that takes practice, but try to write headlines that intrigue your reader without forgetting important keywords. It can help to make a list of keywords you want to include and then brainstorming different ways to construct them into a snappy starter.

Consider that you’re probably spending too little time on the headline, in general. Try spending 20% of your total time writing the headline.

Some general tips include:

  • Keep it short. Search engines only consider so many characters before losing interest in your headline.
  • Stick to what works. People love lists, questions, how-to explainers (i.e. how to write the best blog post) and being told what they’re doing wrong (i.e. Don’t fall for these 10 car salesperson tactics).
  • Avoid clickbait. (Remember, the fish bites because it thinks it’s getting food, not becoming food). Don’t commit a major blogging faux pas and trick visitors into reading your material without delivering on what the headline promises. You’ll lose readership and probably gain a few angry comments along the way.

Social media promotion

Once you’ve hit publish, it’s time to promote, promote, promote.

  • Use Hootsuite to manage all your social networks easily and schedule your post—along with a photo and your snappy headline—for various times during the day.
  • Use the hashtags you audience speaks in, in their social media community to attract new readership.
  • Develop a Twitter list of influencers in your area and engage with them to promote cross sharing.

But, don’t just promote your new content. Set up automated scheduled tweets to draw readers to older, relevant content as well.