Anatomy of a Successful Small Business Blog Post

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Writing blog posts for a small business niche site can certainly feel unglamorous. The posts don’t necessarily generate huge amounts of traffic or garner tons of comments.

However, the importance of this basic step, as part of your overall small business social media footprint, cannot be stressed enough.

Consistent posting can lead to improved Google rankings, increased authority in your niche topic, and most importantly, additional avenues to reach your potential customers.

As a “real life” example for you, I am going to outline my strategy and how I go about creating web content that promotes my venture while at the same time is:

  • Helpful
  • Non-spammy
  • Trust building

Step 1: Before I write a word I determine what my goals are. For the purposes of this little tutorial, and my real life example over at Culebra Blog, my goals were to create a post that:

  • Had a catchy title that might draw in readers.
  • Included photos that would give people a sense of Culebra’s beaches.
  • Incorporated keywords that had the potential to rank well in Google.

Step 2: With the above goals in mind, I referenced the Google Keyword Tool and did some queries to see what people were searching for with respect to the term, “Culebra.”

Step 3: From the info gathered with the KeyWord Tool I decided to do a post on Culebra’s beaches, which in and of itself is an okay title, but it doesn’t really have a catchy hook. So, I crafted the title – – 5 Culebra Beach Pictures that Will Make You Want a Vacation.

Step 4: Then it was time to find five really nice beach pictures with the Filckr search tool CompFight (h/t Seth Simonds).

Step 5: I downloaded the photos and sized them using Photoshop, and came up with an opening line for the blog post that would hopefully interest readers.

Step 6: One of the most important steps, I placed my business website at the bottom of the post, added some relevant keywords and hit publish.

*You can see the post here: 5 Culebra Beach Pictures that Will Make You Want a Vacation

Step 7: The next morning I Googled the phrase “Culebra Beach Pictures,” and like magic, I am on now the front page of 77,200 search results.

Not bad for a half-hours worth of work on a Friday evening!

Why do I call this post successful? Because all of the goals that I set out above were met.

As a final note, when it comes to your small business blog, it’s important to remember that you might not have a huge subscriber base like Seth Godin, Brian Clark, Chris Brogan, or Darren Rowse, but what matters most is that YOUR potential customers are able to find you.

What do you think? Do you have other tips or suggestions?

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Hierarchy of Trust Portals for Small Business Social Media Marketing

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The other day after my ProBlogger guest post, How to Go Beyond Your Small Business Blog and Create a Social Media Footprint, I received quite a few emails from people who were still confused as to where to begin and what the varying levels of social media activity are.

Well, Mr. Brogan and Mr. Smith were smart enough to coin the term and write the book, “Trust Agents” and I have always viewed my small business social media marketing activities at various sites as an act of creating ‘trust portals’.

Hence the phrase and post title – Hierarchy of Trust Portals for Small Business Social Media Marketing

First, for clarification:

Trust – firm reliance on the integrity, ability, or character of a person or thing. (source: answers.com)

Portal – a specialized entry point to a specific market or industry niche, subject area, or interest. (source: wikipedia)

Your hierarchy might look a little different or a lot different depending on the sites that you concentrate on for your small business social media marketing.

When I began, my business started off with NO web presence and I first moved into level two with a minimal engagement strategy where I was just posting photos and videos online, drafting a few press releases and responding to some HARO queries.

As I began to understand social media a little better I moved up in my hierarchy. Subsequently my levels of engagement increased and the most positive outcome was that my opportunity to build trust also increased.

The general hope if you’re just getting started is – – if you interact in the first three levels appropriately, and act as genuine member of a community who is truly trying to listen and help, then potential customers might move on to level four where they invest a little more emotional capital and check out your website and small business blog. All of which could lead to increased sales and referrals.

Here’s the thing: As a final note, I feel it’s important to mention that with every new interaction online the hierarchy begins all over again until trust has been established. It takes a lot of work!!

This diagram is in very rough format and I would truly appreciate your constructive criticism, thoughts and feedback.

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How to Go Beyond Your Small Business Blog and Create a Social Media Footprint

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If you have been struggling a little bit with your small business social media efforts lately, I am guest posting over on ProBlogger today on a topic that you might find helpful.

How to Go Beyond Your Small Business Blog and Create a Social Media Footprint

If you answer yes to the questions below you should go have a read:

  1. Do you have a polished website for your small business and even a professional blog where you publish posts a couple of times per week?
  2. Are you a bit frustrated because based on your initially optimistic website and blog marketing expectations, for some reason, the customers just aren’t coming?

What is a Social Media Footprint?

Don’t get me wrong, having an optimized website and small business blog is a fantastic start, but it is not enough.

Creating a social media footprint is the process of getting the name of your business and brand recognized on the Internet at various sites where your niche customers are likely to find you.

The ultimate goal is to establish the online identity of your small business and to proactively manage your reputation.

You can read the rest of  the post, “How to Go Beyond Your Small Business Blog and Create a Social Media Footprint,” over on ProBlogger now.

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If you are looking for further reading, here a couple more guest posts that I’ve done recently:

Twitip – 20 Must Read Beginner Twitter Tips for Small Business Owners

WorkShifting – Ten Critical Points to Consider Before Workshifting Internationally

Small Biz Survival – Five Amazing Sites to Help You Figure Out Small Biz Social Media

As always, if you need assistance with anything or find yourself struggling with your small business social media campaign, please feel free to email me or get in touch on Twitter @mark_hayward.

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15 (NO Cost) Actionable Social Web Ideas to Help Promote Your Small Business Today

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Have you been meaning to use the social web to help promote your business, but have been holding back because you did not know where to start?

Today, you have NO more excuses.

The other day I did a guest post over on Twitip, 20 Must Read Beginner Twitter Tips for Small Business Owners, which had over 700 ReTweets. (Not meant as backslapping just seems to intimate that there’s a need for this kind of information!)

That post came about came about because a friend of mine, who is also a small business owner, was hesitant and did not know how to start using Twitter.

Today I thought that I would build upon the Twitip post and broaden the scope to include more of the social web. Here are my suggestions for you as you work to build your social media footprint:

  1. Register for Help A Reporter Out (HARO), read through the notices, and reply to all inquiries that are related to your business.
  2. Connect with, or promote, at least five people in your field on Twitter.
  3. Find the most visited forum that covers your industry and leave a non spammy comment or post as you work to begin to gain the trust of your potential customers.
  4. Upload 20 well-tagged pictures to FLICKR that show us how you ply your craft.
  5. Start a “Customer of the Day” photo section on your website or blog and provide a story to go along with the picture.
  6. Setup Twitter Search and Google Alert to see who is talking about you or your industry.
  7. Create a blog and with your very first post teach us something.
  8. Make a fan page for your business on Facebook and encourage your customers to drop by.
  9. Have a look at your ‘About’ page and rewrite the whole thing.
  10. Write a useful and amazing guest post and submit it to a very large blog. (Note: If I can get published on ProBlogger, Zen Habits, and Chris Brogan then YOU most certainly can.)
  11. Think creatively about your website’s search engine rankings (and SEO) and find new ways to rank better in Google. (Here’s one example of what I did last week!)
  12. Define who your customers are, fire your customers who don’t fit, and then let us know what you offer and who your ideal customer is via a detailed FAQ’s page.
  13. Shoot an interesting video that’s somehow related to your business and your brand’s story and then post it to YouTube.
  14. Do a Twitter or FaceBook only promotion.
  15. Depending on your business, study sites like Epinions, Yelp, Citysearch, Yahoo! Local, TripAdvisor,  and OpenTable. Thank those who are singing your praises and respond to your critics in a professional manner. But, most importantly, try to find the kernels of truth from those who criticize.

I am sure you know that social media is not rocket science. Sometimes the hardest part is just taking action and getting started. The keys are to listen, learn, engage, and be helpful. (Once you’ve started, consistency counts!)

As a final note, you should realize that if you don’t begin to manage your business’s online reputation today, sooner or later someone else will.

Over to you. What do you think? Do you have more suggestions?

image source: Matt Hamm

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How to Use Big News Stories to Improve Small Business Search Engine Rankings

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Disclaimer: I certainly don’t pretend to know all of the intimate details related to Search Engine Optimization (SEO), in fact you probably know more about it than me.

The purpose of this post is to help small business owners who might be struggling with their search engine rankings, which is part of an effective overall social media plan.

We all know that for any small business that relies heavily on web traffic, it’s important to rank well in Google for various terms. Certainly, it can be difficult (not to mention frustrating!) to crack the front page at times. Fortunately:

Big News + Your Small Business Blog = Improved Rankings

One area where I have had some SEO luck (with my business blog) is capitalizing on various news stories and headlines that are somehow relatable to my business.

For example, yesterday while I was helping our guests and cleaning rooms, I was checking in with Twitter every once and a while just to see what was happening in the world.

At about 1:00pm I happened to notice a Tweet from Stacy Monk, which almost knocked me off my chair. The message stated:

Upon further investigation, I learned that JetBlue would be conducting an All-You-Can-Jet promotion from September 8 until October 8. Essentially, for $599 (+ taxes if outside US) you can fly as much as you want on JetBlue for a month.

Not only was I interested in the offer, but I also figured that this announcement had the potential to make headlines.

Knowing that JetBlue has regularly scheduled flights to San Juan (the hub to get to Culebra) from many cities within the U.S., I immediately drafted the following post on my small biz blog, Thinking About Coming to Culebra, Puerto Rico? – JetBlue $599 Unlimited Flying Special, to try and get some search engine juice.

What did I do exactly? And what were the results?

Below are the steps that I undertook and the search engine results from just about twenty-four hours after the post went live:

Step 1: The Title – I chose a title that had some key words from the news story in it and made it relevant to my small business niche.

Step 2: Reduced Title Length – Next, I shortened the post title with the “post slug” feature in the older version of WordPress that I am using to read –

(Note: the whole thing reads: all-you-can-jet-blue-special-culebra-puerto-rico)

Step 3: Drafted Post – Once the title and ‘slug’ were all set, I drafted a post that I thought might sincerely help someone who is looking for a great deal to get down to Culebra or the Caribbean. Even if people don’t have any vacation time, with the $599 All-You-Can-Jet offer, you could theoretically come down for four weekends in a row. That’s amazing!

Step 4 Relevant Categories – With the post now done, I checked off some relevant categories that the information fit into.

Step 5 Provided Keywords – From what you read and hear, supposedly keywords don’t really matter that much, but I am not convinced. (Perhaps an SEO expert can weigh in on this.)

After that, I hit the publish button, let the Google algorithm do its job, and waited to see what happened…

The results?

After less than twenty-four hours my business blog now ranks on the front page of Google for what I hope will be some key phrases:

The great thing about targeting various news stories to fit your niche is that it should not take you a lot of time. For instance, the post that I highlight above only took me about twenty minutes to put together.

If you are a small businessperson, whether you own a steakhouse, are a social media professional, own a liquor store, develop web apps, or perhaps, even an SEO wizard, YOU can do this!

You might not be able to land on the front page of Google for every key term or phrase, but what you can do is refine large news stories that are related to your business in some manner, make them fit your niche, and hopefully capitalize.

What do you think? What am I missing?

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Eight Irrefutable Ingredients for Effective Copy: The Jimmy Buffet Way

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“Nibblin’ on sponge cake, watchin’ the sun bake…wasting away again in Margaritaville”

Jimmy Buffet is a better copywriter than you. Are you kidding? No.

Margaritaville, Cheeseburger in Paradise, and Changes in Latitudes/Changes in Attitudes are all songs from Jimmy Buffet that conjure up visions of boat drinks, a palm thatched hut, escapism, and if just for a fleeting moment, an unconventional life.

However, did you know that Buffett has written three No. 1 best sellers?

  • Tales from Margaritaville
  • Where Is Joe Merchant?
  • A Pirate Looks At Fifty

Two of his books spent over seven months on the New York Times Best Seller fiction list and his autobiography, A Pirate Looks At Fifty, went straight to No. 1 on the non-fiction list.

In fact, he is only one of seven authors in that list’s history to have reached No. 1 on both the fiction and non-fiction lists. (source: Jimmy Buffet Wikipedia)

What is it that creates such loyalty to the Buffet brand?

The other day a guest of mine asked, “So do you listen to Jimmy Buffet and drink piña coladas every day now that you live in the Caribbean?”

Of course, in order to keep up appearances, I told her, “Absolutely and most days I walk around in a grass skirt and put a foam shark fin on my back too.”

And then I realized, you know, since I left snowy, cold, and blustery Worcester, Massachusetts over ten years ago I haven’t wanted listen to Buffet at all.

But her question got me to thinking… there must be something to this guy’s music that we, as business owners and online marketers, should pay close attention to.

What’s Buffet’s secret sauce for success?

How has he been able to create a tribe of cult like followers who attend his shows en masse and consistently make his live shows sell out within hours?

Moreover, how does Buffet get typically rational folks, from normally conservative young professionals all the way up to near retirees, to dress up in ridiculous outfits like coconut bikinis, grass skirts and parrot hats?

It’s not mango salsa, rum drinks, or even the promise of Captain Cook’s buried treasure!

Could it possibly be quirky, brandable phrases like – ‘parrotheads’, ‘ fins up’, and ‘land sharks’? Well, that might be part of it.

By his own admission in his book, “A Pirate Looks at Fifty,” Buffet is not an exceptionally gifted musician and he surely does not have model-esque good looks. As for his writing, certainly, Buffet is no Mark Twain.

So what is it that has allowed him to dominate his niche and succeed on such a grand scale, where others have failed? And perhaps, most importantly, how can Jimmy’s formula for success help you to enhance your writing and increase sales?

Here are eight irrefutable ingredients that Buffet uses, which can help you improve your copy:

Ingredient 1 – The power of story

Whether you like his music, or not, Jimmy Buffet is a master storyteller and this characteristic above all else has led to his success. The tales and stories that are weaved through his lyrics, such as, being adrift in the Caribbean ocean and finally reaching the sandy shore to discover the perfect cheeseburger and cold beer. Or how a change in latitude to a warmer climate will instantly bring a change in attitude are the stuff of legend.

I dare any of you to tell me that on a cold and miserable winter’s night you haven’t broken out the blender, made some margaritas and cranked his music, if just for a little while, to be transported someplace warmer. Whether drafting a blog post, an ‘About’ page or writing an eBook, a great story sells every time, guaranteed.

Ingredient 2 – Clear vision

Buffet knows exactly where he wants to take people with his songs, “But there’s this one particular harbor/So far but yet so near,” and he writes his lyrics accordingly.

For the small business owner and marketer who’s using the internet to drive traffic to their business, product, or service it is awfully hard to craft a compelling story if you don’t have a vision.

Ingredient 3 – Unabashed passion

Not only does Jimmy embody the flip-flop and sand in the toes mentality through his music, he has lived the life and loves it. You can hear it in his composition and he really makes people believe that we should all be living this way.

Most consumers can smell a fake and fraud. Are you injecting passion into your message?

Ingredient 4 – Tap into emotion

Buffet’s music and lyrics are supposed to make you feel good and meet you on a visceral level. His emotional pitch; the sun is out, the piña coladas are fresh, and it never rains in paradise. The people tailgating before his concerts might not be able to afford a vacation, but he makes exotic dreams come true because he makes people feel good about themselves.

Most purchases are driven by pure emotion and buyers don’t always buy what they need or want. Do you want your buyers to be excited, happy, or motivated? Then make sure your writing delivers.

Ingredient 5 – Clutter free message

The lyrics to the song Margaritaville, “nibbling on sponge cake and watching the sun bake” are not going to win old Jimmy any Pulitzer prizes, but his message is crystal clear.

In his article on American writing, William Zinsser states perfectly, “Clutter is the disease of American writing. We are a society strangling in unnecessary words, circular constructions, pompous frills and meaningless jargon.” Enough said.

Ingredient 6 – Serve your niche

Buffet writes his lyrics like he is an expert on escapism. He doesn’t say, ‘You might enjoy the sand and surf’ he tells you with conviction. Additionally, he does not write songs in an effort to win over the heavy metal crowd or the classical music snobs. And you certainly won’t hear him singing about the heartwarming qualities of Bill Lumbergh and attempting to sell you on the benefits of office life.

Many online marketers struggle because they try to serve everyone. If you can’t define your niche in sixty seconds or less, I am not sure you have narrowed your focus enough.

Ingredient 7 – Fill a Purpose

There are many unhappy professionals and office workers out there and unfortunately many won’t move beyond fear and pursue their true passion. For most they simply can’t quit their job and move to paradise. Jimmy’s music fills the need for people who dream of a slacker lifestyle and warm weather escape.

Are you adding to purpose to your copy and examining what need(s) your product or service fills?

Ingredient 8 – Trust

Buffet’s “every man” style lyrics and music create a connection and bond with his fans. People feel like they know him, and most importantly, they feel like they can trust him.

If you are writing targeted information for Internet sales, would I trust you enough to give you my credit card number if I read your content?

As a small business owner I am primarily concerned with effective copy that draws in more customers, but Jimmy’s formula can work equally well on your about page, your blog, or a landing page that is designed to sell your information product.

In Jimmy’s own words…“It’s a magic kind of medicine that no doctor can prescribe…”

About the author: Mark Hayward hates the snow and cold! But he loves living in the Caribbean, owning his own business and is a co-founder of the nonprofit, Train for Humanity. You can follow him on Twitter @mark_hayward.

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The Essential Non-Writer’s Guide to Writing

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Do you hope to become a published author and write a great novel? That’s terrific! But what about the rest of us?

I am not a writer. Do not consider myself a writer. And have no desire to write a book or have a literary agent.

However, I do get tremendous satisfaction from helping people, networking and exchanging ideas. Also, I am a strong proponent of small business DIY social media marketing.

Unfortunately, since I live on an island, the best way for me to communicate and try to help other business owners out there is to self publish my thoughts.

If YOU do not consider yourself a writer and have been holding back from blogging or some other form of written expression, then fear not! I am going to try and assist you.

There are many blogs (and books) that I read and think

Damn I wish I could write like that

But I am very comfortable admitting that I am not them and probably will never possess their overall skill and grace when it comes to crafting a handsomely delicious blog post or story.

However, if you are like me, you should not be dismayed. Even as a self confirmed non-writer I have been able to get guest posts published on some of the top blogs on the Internet. For example see my posts on:

Zen Habits – Six Life Lessons Learned from Triathlon Training

Problogger – Launching Your Next Venture Using Social Media

Chris Brogan – How to Overcome Wallflower Syndrome

Successful Blog (Liz Strauss) – You Have the Power to Change the World

The above is by NO MEANS meant to come off as bragging or gloating but it is intended to hopefully give YOU confidence, especially, if you own a business and would like to start blogging as part of an overall social media campaign. Certainly, if I can do it, you can too!

How have I done it?

To be honest, I have never really thought about my “non-writing” formula until recently when I woke up at two in the morning and could not get back to sleep. With miscellaneous thoughts and ideas flowing through my mind at that strange hour, it was then that I realized I do indeed have a writing system and general flow that I follow. And I thought, perhaps others who struggle with writing (like me) would find my methodology useful.

Eight Step Non-Writer’s Guide to Writing

  1. Write your titles first – I realize that this advice might sound counterintuitive, but I always start with a title and work my blog post out from it. If you are a small business owner looking to blog for the first time, it’s a great way to get started. Heck, I can even come up with a title that sounds good for scrubbing toilets – “How to Influence Customers and Win at Toilet Scrubbing.” Or, if you would like some more general ideas, have a look at 31 Blog Post Ideas for Small Businesses.
  2. Get started – I know, I have stared at the blank computer screen for hours waiting and hoping for someone to just magically show up and start writing for me. When that didn’t occur I realized that I had to START, and at the very least, get my ideas down on paper.
  3. List out bullet points – if you are having difficulty getting started, listing bullet points of what you want to say can be tremendously helpful. These items that you list can be structured into formal paragraphs after you get your ideas “out.” For example, if you are struggling with you websites ‘About’ page (remember DIY media creation) then list out everything that is unique about you or your business and create your sentences and paragraphs from the “idea inventory” you have created.
  4. Write in a “human” voice – when I draft blog posts or even emails, I always try to imagine that I am having a conversation with someone and that I am trying to explain a concept or task in as “stripped down” a language as possible. (READ: I am not really trying to impress anyone, so I leave the fancy big words for the real writers.)
  5. Be useful – if you are going to put in the hard work and hours (yes, for me it’s hours!) that it takes to write something well, then try to at least make it on a subject matter that is first and foremost, important to YOU, and also essential to others who happen to be in your business or niche. Remember, you have knowledge and people all over the world are using the Internet to learn…what can you teach them?
  6. Keep it simple – the most popular post on my old site MyTropicalEscape was without question a missive titled “39 Things I Have Learned As I Prepare to Turn 40.” Strangely enough, I drafted that post in about twenty minutes (much less time than normal) and I think it succeeded precisely because it was simple. I am constantly trying to remove words and keep my drafts as straightforward and uncomplicated as possible.
  7. Proofread – most of us hate it, I’ve been skewered before in the comment section for not doing it, and sometimes it feels like it would be easier to schedule a root canal than to have to undertake this mundane task. But we can’t escape it!
  8. Presentation/newspaper test – if you remember one thing from this post, I think this might be the most helpful tip. With everything that I write I try to imagine that I am going to be giving a presentation on the subject. If what I’ve written, after going through all of the steps above, is clear and easy to understand then I will publish the post or web page (whatever I happen to be working on). Also, I am not sure who said this, but I NEVER publish or email anything that I would not want to find has mysteriously been plastered on the front page of the New York Times and read by millions of people.

Well, that’s it. That is my non-writer’s writing guide. Please, if you struggle with writing, or even if you consider yourself a writer, let us know your tips, tricks, and goals in the comments.

(I typically post about once a week and seriously want to help businesses with getting a grasp on social media and blogging. If the subject interests you then sign up for the RSS feed or follow me on Twitter @mark_hayward.)

image source: Cyber Integra

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