Recently I’ve been doing some copy-editing for a client who got an SEO company to write a bunch of posts for their blog. The posts are generic stuff – how to do XXX with WordPress, 6 ways to XXXX with WordPress, SEO and WordPress, etc etc. As well as being poorly written, the posts, while about WordPress, have next to nothing to do with the type of WordPress company the blog is for, which is pretty niche. It’s not hard to see the thought process – blog is for a WordPress business, ergo content related to any area of WordPress is good for SEO.
This approach may have a steady stream of content on your blog, but it’s not useful, distinctive, or even particularly relevant to your company. There are plenty of generic WordPress blogs out there, producing content about WordPress, and doing a pretty good job of it – why try to be like them? Why product sub-par content just for traffic?
Rather than thinking of your blog as a traffic generation tool, think of it differently:
- a place to show off your knowledge of your area
- a home for your community
- a repository of learning
- a showcase for your products
- a showcase for your community
I don’t do a whole lot of blogging anymore, and if someone asks me to help them out with their blog, I’ll often suggest that we think about strategy before starting to write. Ideally I’d like to provide them with the tools to create a sustainable blog. This approach pays dividends as it creates a long-term strategy that can be built upon.
Here are some of the things I’ll look at when putting together a blog strategy for a WordPress business.
Your blog is your opportunity to establish your credibility. You can show off just how much knowledge you have in your subject area. As people who work on the internet we’re very lucky to have a platform to showcase our skills. Think about more traditional modes of business – a mechanic, for example. I have no idea whether my local mechanic is any good, except recommendations and reviews. A mechanic doesn’t have a forum to be all “Oi! Look at my crazy mechanicing skills.” You do have that.
Show off what you do, write elegant posts that make it clear that your businesses comprises experts in your field. For example;
- Theme Shop – articles about workflow, design decisions, issues you’ve faced, design trends, why you’ve chosen specific functionality. Articles about theme development and theme design.
- Hosting company – performance, caching, servers, reviews of CDNs, optimizing WordPress, .htaccess, nginx vs apache, working with MySQL.
- Maintenance & support – WordPress maintenance tasks, keeping WP secure, running your WordPress site effectively.
- Content (i.e. me!) – posts about producing content for WordPress businesses (like this one, duh), documentation, UI text, UX, general posts about tech writing.
- Development shop – coding, development, troubleshooting, articles about any area of WordPress you specialise in – i.e. Multisite, BuddyPress,
Whatever you do, whether it’s WordPress or anything else, use your blog to establish your credibility, not to look like a spammy SEO person.
Part of the issue of going down the SEO route is that it makes it harder for a community to form around your blog. Ideally, your blog should provide a hub for your customers and your community. If you’re just providing them with content they could find anywhere then you’re not giving them an incentive to make your blog their online home. There are a number of different ways you can engender a sense of community around your blog:
Don’t just be a shop front. Lift the veil and show what’s going on behind your business. Let people feel that they’ve got a stake in your business, and in the people behind it. This will help to create loyalty. You can achieve this by sharing your successes and your failures, by discussing major changes. By being upfront and honest with your community, major issues such as hacks or other security breaches, can be turned into PR successes. People like it when companies admit that they’re wrong and try to do better. All of these things will help people to feel that they are part of your family.
Many of your customers or clients will have absolutely no contact with the wider WordPress community. Why would they? To them WordPress is just a tool to achieve their business goals. This means that you should provide any WordPress news that is relevant to your readers. A particularly good time to do this is when a new WordPress Release Candidate appears. Write a post about what the changes mean for your customers. Things like the new media uploader are going to be relevant to everyone, performance improvements might be of particularly interest to hosting providers, new functionality or under the hood improvements could be relevant to plugin developers and development shops. Keep your customers up-to-date, this means no surprises when they upgrade.
Case studies are effective for so many reasons. Here are just a few:
- They show off what your product can do in an actual, live example.
- They make your customers feel good. They will be flattered if you ask to do a case study on them.
- They’re a useful way for your customers to learn.
When you put together a case study on a customer you’ll naturally ask about how the user has implemented your product on their website. Why did they choose it? How did they set it up? Did they customize it? What plugins did they use with it? etc etc etc. But also spend some time looking at how the product affected their offline business. If you sell an event management plugin, get the user to take photos of the event, to get quotes from people who used the website to make their booking. Always include photos of people!
Another way to strengthen your community, is to have a figurehead. In the WordPress community this is most commonly the founder (or co-founder). By figurehead, I mean the person who drives the community, posts regularly on their personal blog (or other outlet) and on the business blog, and who is generally visible. Of course, we all know of founders who have got terrible reputations and who are still extremely successful. But there’s no way of telling how much more successful they would be if they weren’t perceived to be such assholes.
There are quite a few WordPress founders who are doing it really well – particularly notable are Brian Gardner of StudioPress, and Dre Armeda, of Sucuri. Something notable about both of them is that they both have one thing that people associate them with – for Brian it’s Starbucks, and for Dre it’s tacos. Knowing Dre personally, I know that he’s much more than a guy who likes tacos – but they’re on to something pretty smart.
The online medium seriously limits our ability to communicate. Online, people don’t catch the nuances of your personality. If you’re a dick, you’re a dick. No one is going to know that you’re a great parent, or that you’re passionate, or that you’re lovely to your staff. Whatever you do online, your identity is limited, and it’s up to you to ensure that you choose the limits and that they’re positive. Communication online is restricted, and the people most successful at creating an online persona get that. They choose what they want people to associate them with. A few ill chosen words, or snarky comments, can totally transform how people perceive you, even if you were just having a bad day. Create your online persona, make it likeable. And remember, it’s not really you.
I wrote a few weeks back about using an agile approach to documentation in WordPress. This means keeping your documentation lightweight so that it a) provides everything your user needs to get set up, and b) is easy for you to update. You blog is an important tool when it comes to providing users with additional learning that will help them to make the most of your product. This is less about showing off your knowledge, and more about an additional layer of documentation for your user (though sometimes these merge. Some examples of suggestions I would make to different businesses:
- Theme Shop – tweaking a theme’s CSS, choosing fonts, working with layouts, plugins that enhance the theme, working with advanced options.
- Plugin developer – use cases for setting up your plugin, customizing your plugin, making use of hooks, complementary plugins and add-ons.
- Hosting company – relevant version control systems, deployments, advanced performance tweaks and techniques.
That was longer than I intended it to be….. but, hopefully it was useful. They’re just some of the things I look for when helping a WordPress business come up with a strategy for its blog. One of the most important things, which I haven’t talked about, is doing research. A lot of the solutions I come up with will be based on research into a) how you want your product to be perceived, and b) what your community and customers want/need. Maybe I’ll talk about that another day!
But if you take away just one thing from this, remember to do some planning before you start blogging. And don’t get SEO companies to churn out articles for you!