A high-quality blog is the cornerstone of any solid content marketing strategy. But creating a successful blog takes a lot of effort. If you want that effort you invest to pay off and bring you more traffic and better marketing results, you need to focus on building a valuable resource for your community and optimizing it for search engines.

What does it take to create and manage a successful blog? Here are the 10 key factors that define the best blogs and how you can emulate their success.

1. Successful blogs have clear strategies and goals

Determine your specific blogging goals and long-term strategy, and write it all down. If you need help identifying goals, start by studying the blogs you admire.

Make a list of a half-dozen sites from within your industry or sites that create content you’re passionate about. Pay close attention to what characteristics make these blogs stand out and take notes. For example, look at the length and type of content they create, the number of shares and comments they earn, and how they promote their content on social networks or through paid advertising.

Document your findings on a whiteboard or in a shared public document to help you build your strategy.

Above all, be clear about how your blog will serve your business and its customers.

Here are some questions for your team to consider when defining your goals:

  • What is your current organic website traffic?
  • How much do you hope to see organic traffic increase over the next year?
  • What target market do you want to attract?
  • How do you wish to position your brand within your industry? (i.e., disruptor, energetic, youthful voice, leading authority in a specific niche, etc.)

Answer these questions to determine your strategy:

  • What pain points do you specialize in helping your target market resolve?
  • What search terms do they use when they’re researching these issues?
  • What keywords do you need to use to position your blog as an authority on those topics?
  • How much time can your staff devote each week to creating new posts?
  • Does your team have the necessary writing skills and knowledge of SEO practices to achieve your goals, or would outsourcing be more effective?
  • How will you measure your progress toward your goals?

We’ll cover keyword strategy and SEO skills in more depth later in this post.

2. The most successful blogs have a clear focus

Imagine that you’re looking for in-depth information on a particular topic — let’s say how to make a perfect cup of coffee in a single-cup coffeemaker. If you come across a site with information on coffee alongside posts about glassblowing, auto mechanics, and decorating, you might assume that the site doesn’t have the same depth of knowledge as a site specifically about coffee. In fact, you would probably give the most weight to a site focused on single-cup coffee brewing.

Your readers react the same way to your blog. More importantly, search engines weigh your authority partly based on how much depth you give to a single topic. That’s why a clear focus is vital. Scattering your energy across a broad range of subject matter wastes your time and impairs your ability to rank well for keywords.

You should be able to summarize what your blog is about and who it’s for in one sentence.

Here are some examples of poorly focused blog ideas and better versions.

  • A financial blog —> A blog about investing for retirement aimed at homeowners aged 45-60
  • A beauty blog —> A blog about looking younger, aimed at beauty buffs aged 40-70 who buy high-end products
  • A home improvement blog —> A blog for new homeowners that helps them learn to solve basic problems and learn new skills

Keep in mind that every blog has both an external purpose (“Help homeowners understand HVAC topics”) and an internal purpose (“Showcase our team’s HVAC expertise and encourage homeowners to sign up for our services”). Your content focus is your external purpose.

However, a single blog might have more than one content area for different markets. For example, a beauty blog might have one content area for older women, one for new professional makeup artists, and a third for young women who are learning to use beauty products for the first time. If you go that route, you’ll need to set goals, create keyword strategies, and put together a publishing calendar separately for each content area.

3. Keyword strategy is a critical element of a successful blog

A successful blog will have a  cohesive keyword strategy. Focusing on the right keywords not only helps you attract search traffic — it also enables you to focus on creating content that serves your target audience’s needs.

To create your keyword strategy, you need to identify which terms your target market is using to search for information, then find ways to rank highly on search engine results pages (SERPs) for those keywords. A successful keyword strategy brings more website visitors that are interested in your products or services.

When developing a keyword strategy, start with broad terms related to your niche, then narrow your focus to more specific phrases that are less competitive and easier to rank for.

For example, if you sell coffee makers, a broad keyword like “coffee maker” will be challenging to rank for on its own. However, if you focus on a phrase like “best single cup coffee maker,” you will have a better chance of ranking in SERPs and attracting traffic to your site.

Notice that keywords don’t have to be a single word. Experts use the term “long-tail keyword” to describe keyword phrases that are highly specific and less competitive.

You can use several tools to find keyword ideas, including Google’s Keyword PlannerMoz’s Keyword Explorer, and HubSpot’s Blog Topic Generator. Simply enter a broad term related to your blog’s focus, then let the tool generate a list of related keywords.

Once you have a list of keywords, it’s time to prioritize them. Start by looking at the search volume for each keyword using the tools listed above — this will give you an idea of how much demand there is for information on that topic. You can also look at the competition level for each keyword to see how difficult it would be to rank in SERPs.

Your goal is to build a collection of related keywords with enough search volume to bring you traffic but relatively low competition. Remember to stay focused on the phrases you think your customers might type into a search engine when they’re trying to solve a problem — ideally, the problems your products or services can help them with.

Once you have a core group of keywords to build your content around, brainstorm closely-related terms for each one. One way to structure this is to create a mindmap with a cluster of related terms around each of your core keywords. Another option is to make a spreadsheet with all of your keywords and associated phrases for each.

An important note: You shouldn’t use a keyword on more than one page. Each page of your site, including blog posts, should be focused on a slightly different keyword. If you want your home page or your product page to be the highest-ranking page for “best single cup coffee maker,” use something slightly different for your blog posts, like “single cup coffee maker reviews.” This will help you rank more highly for both terms while keeping the focus of each page clear for search engines.

4. An effective blog needs to be SEO optimized

Even the most robust collection of keywords won’t mean anything if you don’t optimize your blog content for search engines.

To make sure your blog is visible in SERPs, you need to:

  • Use keywords throughout your blog post, including in the title, in headings and subheadings, and sprinkled through the body text
  • Optimize your images by adding keywords to file names and using alternate text tags
  • Add meta tags to each blog post, including a title tag and a meta description

A title tag is the main text that describes your page. It appears in three places: browsers, search engine results pages (SERPs), and external sites that use that page’s title.

A meta description is a short summary of a web page. It can appear in three places: SERPs, web browsers, and external sites.

You can edit your blog’s title tags and meta descriptions in the HTML of each post, or you can use a plugin to do it for you.

Be careful not to stuff your post with too many keywords. Search engines read keyword stuffing like spam and will score you lower for it. To avoid being penalized, stick with natural wording and write your text with the reader in mind.

5. An internal linking strategy will help your blog succeed

When search engines crawl your site, they notice the structure of your internal links. Search engines will be more likely to rank your pages highly if you have a well-organized site with links that point to clear, relevant content.

For example, if you want to let the search engine know that your product page should be the top result for “best single cup coffee maker,” you’ll want to link to that page (preferably using those words as the anchor text) from all your posts that are related to that topic.

To do this, you might create blog posts with keywords like:

  • Single-cup coffee maker reviews
  • How to use a single cup coffee maker
  • Best coffee for a single cup
  • Eco-friendly single cup coffee maker

If each of those posts links back to the product page for your single-cup coffee maker, both your visitors and the search engine crawlers will quickly see that your product page is the most important page on your site related to single-cup coffee makers.

To create your internal linking strategy, make a list of the key pages on your site that you want to get the most traffic. Assign top-level keywords to those pages, then make sure that any post or page that uses a similar keyword has a link to that page.

6. Business blogs should have empathetic content

Appealing to search engine bots will help you earn traffic, but your posts need to satisfy human needs — your target audience — if you want your blog to win new customers and help build your brand.

The most successful blogs create content that speaks directly to their readers. Empathetic content can evoke strong emotion and even inspire readers to take action.

To craft empathetic blog content, focus on better understanding your readers’ interests, pain points, and motivating factors. In other words, get inside the minds of your audience.

How do you do that? Through research.

Go through the process of creating buyer personas — it reveals much about their thought and decision-making processes. Interview your current customers to find out how they consume content. Pick up the phone and ask them directly – you may be surprised at what you learn in an off-the-cuff conversation.

Always write with the intent of helping your blog guests solve their problems first. Your posts should read like magazine articles, not infomercials. Keep any sales messaging brief, polite, and relevant.

7. Visual content is a vital blog component

Don’t overlook the power of visual content. Visual content makes it easier for visitors to consume your content.

Begin to think about how visual content can add to the story you are telling on your blog. For example, if you manage a business blog with more technical content, consider explaining the complexities of your industry in an infographic or a short Q&A video.

Hiring an on-staff graphic designer or working with a design freelancer will help you create visual consistency over time. Check out our list of the 10 best tools for visual storytelling.

8. Thriving blogs have natural, relevant external links

Your content should link to trustworthy, authoritative content that improves the user experience. A good guideline to follow is: for every 300 words of copy, provide one link to a respected resource that helps readers get answers to their questions.

While sending your hard-earned traffic off-site may seem counterintuitive, readers care more about finding the content that matches their intentions and less about who created it. Your blog platform should allow you to open links in a new tab or window so that you won’t lose your visitors completely. Plus, they’ll appreciate you guiding them to the best content and may come back to you as a trusted resource in the future.

Additionally, linking can be an excellent opportunity to share credit with other content creators or influencers and open the door for ongoing co-marketing opportunities to drive the success of your blog.

9. An engaged audience is a sign of an influential blog

Whether it’s with giveaways and prizes or ongoing conversation, your readers should be attended to and recognized. Unfortunately, audience engagement can be time-consuming, mainly because it is not easily automated.

Consider hiring someone adept at social media and relationship-building. For businesses that manage a blog, this could mean hiring a community manager or working with a social media manager.

Besides responding to comments and scheduling distribution, consider thanking readers for sharing or subscribing to your content. Sending personal thank you cards, branded stickers, social shout-outs, or other swag to your top engaged readers will help your blog community thrive.

10. A regular posting schedule is vital to grow your blog’s traffic

One of the essential elements of successful blogging is consistency. Search engines and readers prioritize fresh, recent information over stale posts.

Search engines will start overlooking your site if they see that it’s not updated regularly. A regular posting schedule will also ensure that your website becomes the go-to place for finding information about your subject matter — exactly the kind of comprehensive resource Google loves to serve on its first page of search results.

To keep your blog current and growing, you need to publish new content regularly. Try to publish new blog posts at least once a week to keep your blog from getting stale.

As a bonus, regular posts will also give you a constant stream of material to share in social media posts and newsletters.

Good grammar is non-negotiable. A slip-up here and there won’t kill you, but having a strong focus on editorial quality is essential. Poor grammar harms your credibility and makes you look careless, whereas good grammar is a symbol of the quality of work you do.

The style of your content also matters. Your blog should have a distinctive voice, consistent with the rest of your content and branding. Style is more than just the way you use words. It includes factors such as sentence length, paragraph structure, whether you use humor, and the level of formality you maintain.

Create your successful blog today

As you can see, successful business blogging requires more than just churning out a few posts in your spare time. If you commit to following best practices and strive for excellence in these ten key areas, you’ll be well on your way to establishing your blog as an authoritative resource in your industry.

ClearVoice is here to support your content marketing every step of the way. We offer a fully-managed content production service to keep your blog growing while you focus on running your business.  We can also help you develop your content strategy and connect you with skilled writers, designers, and other professionals if you prefer a DIY approach.

Contact ClearVoice today to learn more about how we can help you build a successful blog.