A blogging strategy begins with examining your business.

The blogging strategy development is a process much like developing a business plan. First, you’ll look at your company background. You’ll look at the value your company provides to customers that your competition cannot provide.

From here, you’ll want to look at your customer. One of the most important tips I’ve given bloggers is to focus on a single person when writing your posts. One of the pitfalls in blogging is to lose focus on who you’re writing the post for and as a result your posts will suffer from lack of direction. Focus on your specific target customer. I’m talking about a single person. Create their profile and go as far as having a picture nearby when you write if that will help. Knowing your customer will allow you to come up with more defined blogging ideas that are concentrated on attracting the right kind of traffic to your blog posts.

At this point, you’ll want to review the sites your customer frequents during their time online. You’ll want to study the place where your customer gets their content. You’ll study the sites of your competition, but you’ll also want to expand this research to sites beyond your exact business competition. In the online world, everyone is fighting for the limited attention of everybody. You need to make sure you’re offering content that is good enough to satisfy your target audience’s attention needs.

Once you have these research points finished you can begin working on the actual blogging strategy. It should come to with some ease although it’s not always easy to think of great content strategies. You’ll have seen the kind of content your customers are looking for in other places. Take ideas from those sources and figure out how you can provide your unique voice to topics. Think about how you can serve content in different ways (videos, images, photographs) that the competition might not be doing.

Reporting is the next function of a blogging strategy I like to bring up to new bloggers. Reporting is important for all aspects of any business. From the marketing point of you a company wants to make sure that marketing activities are generating profit. Blogging is no different. Focus on the way your blog can generate profit. Will your blog be used to increase subscribers? Will the blog be used to increase discovery from potential customers? These are common and a few ways you can track how you are moving visitors down the sales funnel conversion that leads to profit.

Finally, you’ll want to include some direction for how your writers can experiment with new blogging formats. When you create the actual blogging strategy you should have a few blog post formats writers can follow, but it’s important to give writers leeway to try new things. Blogging is a fluid activity. You want to encourage experimentation. Realize that some new formats will fail. In fact, most new efforts will probably fail, but the winners will make the failures worth the effort and frustration.

Company Background

Consider the value proposition of your business. Why do people purchase your products or services over those of your competitors? What is it specifically that makes people choose you over someone or something else?

The answer can be that you have superior products. Your competition might be trying to catch up to the products you offer. Your company might be in the service industry where you provide better results and have the data to back up these claims. Whatever the reason, this is where any blogging strategy begins.

It’s likely your company is already creating content. You might have a direct mail campaign that includes a catalog or flier. You might create advertisements for the local paper or online advertisements for Google AdWords. Most companies have an email program or at least write emails back and forth with their clients. You can also use phone conversations as the inspiration for your blog content.

Think about the words you use any time you interact with clients. Consider the topics you discuss with them. Your customers likely have questions that you are able to answer without really thinking much about it. Other answers require more time and effort, but you eventually get back to your clients with well thought out answers.

This is the start of a good blogging strategy. You focus on the value proposition of your business. You remember the content you already use with your current customer communication and you can re-purpose it for blogging content.

With any new marketing activity you want to go back to the basics. You can even create surveys for your customers to email them asking for their insight into your company. See how they perceive your brand. This practice usually gives great insight into how your cusotmers think about your company. It’s a new perspective aside from how you see things from the inside.

Even calling customers directly or emailing them direction asking for insight is great. You don’t have to do this on a huge scale to learn a great deal about the value your company provides.

When starting the blogging strategy it’s good to get back to the basics of what your company is today, where it’s been in the past and where it’s going in the future. This provides a solid foundation and understanding of where the blogging vision will be.

Focus is good for any marketing initiative and starting with a good primer on the company background is the place to start.

Customer Research

Next, think about your customers. Think about your best customer and define that person’s profile. Think about what their job is. Think about their hobbies. Think about what interests them and what makes them choose your business over the competition. Go as far as having a picture of this person nearby so you can view it and remember who you will be writing blog posts for once you get started.

Once you know the exact person you’ll be writing blog posts for and the reason they purchase from your company you can dive into developing the strategy to create blog content. Think about where your customers might be spending their time when they are not on your website.

It’s likely that your target blogging audience is spending time online to some degree. This is the reason you want to start blogging after all. Think about the main reason your customer is using the Web. A few reasons could be to send emails to family, friends and co-workers. Email is still one of the biggest reasons people use the Web and it’s not going away in the near future.

Many people also use the Web to consume news content. It seems people have their own preferred sources of news. Some prefer MSN and AOL. This audience is typically the early adopters of the Internet that haven’t changed their ways in the last 10 to 15 years.

Others prefer to use Google exclusively to find the news. Still others go directly to favorite news sources like the New York Times or their local newspaper or news TV station websites.

There is a group of people that go to forums and niche sites that aggregate news from specific genres. These forums and sites are popular because they are for people that share similar worldviews and by going to these sites people know they’ll find relevant information to the topics they are interested in.

Social media channels have also become a popular way for people to subscribe to content. People find news via social media. It’s common to find news shared from friends and family on sites like Twitter and Facebook. These sites are also great for sharing content beyond news. Facebook is popular for sharing photographs with family and sharing news on how the latest family outing went or how the last party went.

Figure out the kind of sites your target customer prefers. There are likely a handful of sites your customer has bookmarked in their browser that they frequent more than others. It seems people have just a few sites where they spend most of their time while allowing a small portion of their Internet browsing time to be spent exploring new sites.

By looking at the places your customer visits when using the Internet you should gain a better understanding of who they are as a person and what they are looking for online. The content you find will give good insight into what your customers want and it’s a good place to start when considering your own blogging strategy.

It’s good to get an idea of the content your customer is currently finding valuable. You can use this to create your blogging strategy, but seeing existing content should be the starting point. From there you’ll want to brainstorm ways you can provide better content than the content your customers currently view.

The trick with online marketing is attention. People only have so much time to commit to consuming content and there is fierce competition on the Web for attention. You have to be create the best blogging content if you want to capture the attention of your customers.

Competitor Research

Your competition is always a good place to start when doing any kind of market research.

Are your competitors blogging? Are they doing things with their blog that are good and that provide value for your target customers?

Start competitor research by looking at the content on their blogs and websites. Look at all the content they are providing customers including blog posts, videos, images, photographs and anything else that is considered content. Look deeper to see what type of content is getting the most response from fans.

Comments are a good indicator most of the time of how engaged a target audience is with a blog post. Sharing is also a pretty good indicator of how popular a post is with an audience. Most blogs have sharing buttons for Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. See what posts are seeing the most shares and document the type of posts these are. It’s a good starting point to understanding how your competitors might be succeeding with their blogging strategies.

You can use this research to determine some of the types of posts you will likely have to write on your company blog. You don’t want to copy exactly what others are doing, but it’s good to know what you have to live up to with your blog posts. Your customers are already finding something they see as valuable online. It’s your job to provide something that’s better than what your competition is doing. You can cover the same topics, and you’ll likely do that in most cases, but to do it with a different voice that provides more value. This is part of what creates a winning blogging strategy.

You and your writers can cover the same topics as others, but your goal will be to do it in a voice that is more reliable, more trustworthy than the competition. Your goal with the blog is to create a community. You want to bring together your customers with the blog as a point of communication and interaction where they can improve their lives.

This enhanced customer experience should optimize the customer relationship and improve profits.

After researching your direct competition you’ll want to refer to your notes on the other sites your customers are visiting. These sites (think: Facebook, MSN, Google, etc.) are also your competition. Remember, you’re fighting for the attention of your customers.

A content strategy or blogging strategy is about winning the attention of your customers. Most blogging efforts are focused on the early stages of the sales funnel. You are working to get your target customers attention allowing them to discover your brand. From there you want to capture their future attention by asking them to subscribe to your content. As the relationship grows you foster a purchasing decision that hopefully leads to a long and profitable customer relationship.

Go back and look at the research you did on your customer and the sites they visit. Look at this content again and consider how your company can provide content that covers the same issues and topics. Then think about how you can add your unique voice to the topic.

Think back to the value you offer your customers. Perhaps you are a plumber that is available at anytime of day and you always provide service that is well done with focus on setting customers up for the long-term with their issues.

There are lots of companies out there that blog about plumbing, but your can cover the same topics, but focus on the long-term ways to improve a plumbing situation. You can focus on how customers should go about contacting someone when their pipes burst at 3 in the morning. These are the concerns your customer has and you can provide the answers with content because only your company offers this aspect of the business. It’s your value proposition.

By looking at the other sites your customer visits you’ll also gain an understanding for the related content they are interested in. You might find that your customers are interested in sports or outdoor activities or indoor activities. You might find that your customers like participating in local events or that they are really interested in the activities their kids have going on.

Use this knowledge to blend the topics you can address with your expertise and weave it into other areas of the lives of your customers.

Think back to the plumbing example. You might find that your customer is a 40-year old male that has a family, he loves sports, and he likes having his friends over for the games each weekend.

A typical blog post that your competition might cover could be something like The Best Way to Unclog a Drain. Another site that your customer visits might have a post like Five Ways the Packers Can Beat the Steelers.

You can combine these interests to create a really great blog post. Think about creating blog content that covers something like How to Create a Packer-themed Guys Bathroom. It could even include details like installing a urinal in the bathroom. I’m not sure why, but guys love talking about their bathrooms and having a urinal is something guys would talk about.

Research your direct competitors. See if they have blog posts that are successful. Think about how you can provide something that is at least as valuable as these posts with the goal of exceeding the quality of the competition’s posts.

Also consider the other content your customer is consuming on the Web. Think about how you can steal them away from other sites and provide content that is more worthy of their attention.

On the Web, everyone is your competition. You’re fighting for the attention of your target customers.

Figure out the content your customers want and brainstorm ways you can provide better content.

Blogging Strategy

Research is not the most fun part of creating a blogging strategy, but once you’ve looked at your own company and the competition you should be well prepared to start developing a strategy.

The brainstorming process is something that can be fun and exciting. It’s good to get multiple people in a room. Find a whiteboard if you can and just start throwing ideas for blog posts on the board (or computer screen or piece of paper).

Include blog post ideas, concepts, series ideas and anything else you could do that would possibly gain the attention of your target audience. There are no rules in the brainstorming sessions. Simply take down as many notes as you can. Keep things moving in the right direction. There should be some focus for the session. Make sure everyone in the room has been part of the research phase. This gives each person a good idea of what others have already been doing and provides a better pathway to what your business can do better and differently.

This session should last about 30 minutes to an hour. You don’t want to sit around too long. There should be plenty of ideas flowing. Everyone in the room will have a pretty good handle on the customer and the kind of content they are interested in consuming. Things should move along fast.

Once you have a board full of ideas, it’s time to organize.

Separate the ideas into categories. You should see some common themes among all the ideas. I’m not sure why, but most people come up with ideas in patterns and common themes. You should find that ideas fit into groups.

Put these posts and theme ideas into groups. Then try to set a priority of what you and your team feel are the most important groups. Make a priority list. This should set you up well for what your blog will discuss the most while also providing a few other secondary topics.

You probably had a good idea of what your blog would cover before you got started, but after reviewing your business, your customers and the competition you’ll have an even better understanding of what your blog will discuss.

Back to the plumbing business. A blog brainstorm session priority list might look something like this:

  1. Plumbing Design Tips for Guys
    1. Guy’s Bathrooms
    2. Team Themed Bathrooms
    3. Bar areas
    4. Outdoor area plumbing ideas
  2. How to Articles
    1. Simple ways to save a few bucks
    2. Simple plumbing projects you can do yourself
    3. Common plumbing mistakes
  3. Equipment Reviews
    1. Refrigerators
    2. Sinks
    3. Toilets

The goal of this blogging strategy session is to come up with a guideline so that you and other writers can reference what the vision is for each post on the site. You’ll want to be able to see this priority list and instantly have ideas of what you can write about for the next post. You should feel comfortable when writing the posts because there is research behind the ideas and you already know your target customer is looking for this kind of information.

The final step recommended for a blogging strategy is to create an entire reference document for anyone that will be writing blog posts. This document should contain the priority list from above. The document should also include a full description of the target customer. Include all the attributes of the customer including their work, hobbies and anything else that helps people understand who the customer is. You can even include a photograph. This really helps define who your customer is and makes writing each blog post much easier.

Finally, include a mission and vision statement for your blog. A vision for what your blog will be in the future allows writers to know what they’re working toward. You want there to be clear goals for the blog. This will help folks keep themselves accountable when they are writing each post. They know there is a vision in mind for the blog and that all actions should be taken with the blog vision in mind.

Reporting

Reporting is often the overlooked area of a blogging strategy.

It’s important to have reporting on a quarterly or monthly schedule. You want to go back to the vision of the blog and make sure the writers are publishing posts that are in line with that vision. You want to have established goals for traffic, email sign ups, perhaps comments and even sales and profit.

Consider that it will probably take at least 3 to 6 months before you will see any kind of traffic to the blog. This is a common initial phase for any new blog. With this period in mind you want to set realistic yet optimistic goals for the blog.

It’s good to have a budget for the blog. You want to make sure everyone involved in aware that the blog is a marketing activity. You want there to be payback for the efforts even if that means getting email sign ups or new discovery in the business that eventually leads to profit.

You always want to track profit with any marketing activity. A blog should be held to the same standard. Over time, keep track of new customers that can be attributed at least in part to the activity of the blog. This is easier for B2B companies and a little more difficult for B2C companies.

Reporting sessions should also give both you and the writers to discuss the ongoing vision and strategy of the blog. You can discuss the kinds of posts that are working the best and those that aren’t. These discussions often lead to more good ideas for blog posts in the future and can even alter the direction of the blog. You’ll always have your initial priority list of ideas, but a blog is fluid.

The Web is something that seems to always be changing. Most industries have news that changes. The key is to strike a balance with addressing new topics while sticking to content that will have lasting value. There is a proper balance of writing content that will have long-term value for your blog and writing content that has a freshness factor. You want to address new needs of your customers, but with too much focus on the new you’ll find that the content on your site has fleeting value.

Keep a balance of long-term content that continues bringing in traffic for years and content that address the latest news and needs of your customers.

Also make sure to discuss any new types of blog post formats the writers are testing. You want to make sure that testing and experimenting are part of the blogging process.

Experimentation and Testing

For any blog to succeed in the long-term it’s necessary to make sure writers are aware that experimenting and testing is part of the process.

With the initial phases of the blog you’ll find that certain blog post formats will be part of your company blog. You’ll also realize that you want to improve on what is currently being offered to your target audience. You can probably come up with new ideas in the brainstorming sessions, but coming up with new, creative blog post formats should be an ongoing process.

Reporting sessions are a good time to bring up experimenting. You can discuss with your writers what they’re working on. You can go over a list of posts that have done well and posts that didn’t do so well.

Remember that it’s alright to have failures. Not all posts are going to do well. Make sure your writers know that it’s alright to fail with new blog post formats. They’re probably going off hunches with new ideas. Some will work and some will not. As long as they stumble on a few blog post formats that really drive traffic things will be working out well for your blog.

Let your imagination go wild with new blog post formats. Think about doing infographics or videographics. Try creating crazy lists. Try anything with the idea that if you stick to the basic goals you might stumble on something that really clicks with your target audience.

Let your writers go a little crazy with new experiments. Stick to the core target audience, but let you writers have some fun with new post formats. And then be sure to give them proper praise when something works out. There is a little balance here with making sure things stay on task, but are continuously improving.

Improvement comes from experimenting with the current formula while sticking with the basic idea that your company blog needs to provide more value than the competition.