The power of blogging is endless.
This sentiment is especially true for SMBs, which typically don’t have the financial backing of major businesses that can provide an endless flow of appealing video or podcast content.
A company blog has one overall goal that results in increased revenue: to create energy around what I call “TAR” – a concept that I blogged about before, TAR standing for Trust, Authority and Reputation.
Once these three elements are established, the blogging effort’s ROI over time will far outweigh that of any paid marketing campaign.
Unfortunately, companies and digital marketing agencies fail to experience the true power of blogging.
Either they are non-believers who don’t understand that a blog is the ultimate builder of TAR, or they do believe but constantly struggle with finding the perfect writer.
Companies can source a blog writer in three ways: a digital marketing agency, a freelancer, or in-house.
The typical digital marketing agency has a few in-house writers who may have to blog about various unrelated subjects. The outcome is never optimal here.
Think about creating content for a finance client one moment, followed by a pet supply company the next, then an aftermarket auto accessories business. This will soon cause burnout unless the writers are magically proficient and passionate about all of those subjects.
When seeking a freelancer or in-house writer, the search is much easier; you search through numerous websites or place a hiring ad. But this situation also arrives with some issues.
Reputable freelancers and a dedicated in-house blogger can become pricey, And, unlike in most agency situations, the blogger may not have an SEO expert to enhance his or her work.
How about editors? Most freelancers don’t have editors.
These issues have helped develop my agency’s business model, which relies on freelance bloggers of various passions. I basically find and match writers to clients.
The client receives triple the value because they not only get a writer skilled in their industry/niche but also get all the SEO enhancements and a unique seven-layer editing process.
Whether you run an agency that offers blogs or a company searching for a freelancer or in-house blogger, the following 17 non-negotiable skills are crucial for acquiring and retaining quality talent, and increasing company revenue through one of the strongest forms of content marketing.
1. Passion & Proficiency
When blog writers have a passion for the subject and are both proficient in the craft of writing and the subject itself, the quality of work increases dramatically. This provides a stress-free environment for both the writer and the business.
Those that are passionate about a subject are typically more knowledgable, which keeps the material factual and trustworthy. And you can tell a passionate writer from a fake within a few sentences.
Sure, some of the best writers can be experts on subjects with zero passion for them, but the quality will never match that of one who has both proficiency and passion for the subject.
When my agency searches for new writers to cover a subject, this is the first criteria.
Don’t get me wrong – a few of what I call “factotum” writers exist that can just do it all because they have such a passion for writing they’re willing to spend extra time learning about the subject and eventually become super passionate about it.
But these writers are tough to find – and if you do find them, hold onto them.
Leadership mentor Michael Hyatt’s supports this concept in his latest book, “Free to Focus”. Hyatt says that for true success in life and careers, one must find their true north on the “Freedom Compass” – a productivity tool he has created that helps evaluate tasks, activities, and opportunities.
The true north of this compass is called “The Desire Zone.” This is where passion and proficiency intersect, and people can make their most significant contributions to “business, family, community…and maybe the world.”
The same goes for a blogger with passion and proficiency for both the subject and writing.
When hiring an agency that will offer blogging, or a freelance/in-house blogger, ask some simple questions first.
If you’re using an agency, ask for details about their writers.
- Are they in-house?
- What industries do they blog about now?
- What do they know about my industry?
- And are they passionate about it?
- What work can I see that they previously completed?
If you’re hiring a freelance or in-house blogger, simply seek writers that are interested in your industry. Then ask questions like above.
If reputability is a factor within the industry, simply use Google News with the author’s name in quotations.
For example, I’m a 10-year veteran of the motorcycle industry and have written thousands of blogs. A quick Google News search of “Ron Lieback” and you’ll find over 4,200 blogs – most from the motorcycle industry.
2. Meets Deadlines
A blog’s success thrives on frequent and consistent delivery, which means the writers must meet deadlines. This is where smart leadership takes over.
Don’t iron fist and demand deadlines; rather, influence the blog writers by making them know they are part of the success story.
When revenue increases and a client can directly attribute it to blogging, that writer should feel a sense of pride. Sometimes they don’t, and you must reinforce that.
Always bump up the deadline for writers by a few days. For some, I go as far as a week in advance. Things happen in life, whether the writer gets sick or something else.
Make sure you have a buffer zone for them and you. This saved me a few times; during one situation a writer became extremely sick. I was able to redelegate the work to another writer and continue fulfilling the client’s content calendar.
3. Timely Communication
Besides meeting deadlines, writers must also have timely communication.
By timely I don’t mean immediately, but at least within 24 hours for emails and three hours for calls/texts.
When the blog-creation process is proactive, there’s no need for reactive actions, including immediate answering of an email.
I’m a firm believer and practitioner of only answering emails three times a day. To remain in à la Cal Newport “Deep Focus” mode, I also keep all notifications off when working, and keep calls silenced.
Explain the importance of timely communication up front with your bloggers, along with the criteria of when to expect a response.
Explain how this timeliness will create less stress, which equates to happiness in both work and personal situations.
4. Clean Spelling & Grammar
There’s a huge difference between “colon” and “cologne.” You want to smell like the latter, for sure.
Always spellcheck everything, and make sure someone else edits besides the blogger.
The best writers in the world are created by the best editors. Mistakes will always occur – the goal is to correct them before anyone sees them.
This also goes for proper grammar. I’m not only talking about punctuation and proper use of adjectives, but also the use of words.
For example, further and farther are commonly misused. The first one is used for time references, and the second is used for distance.
Another is fewer and less; always use fewer to describe plural words and less to describe singular words: That used Ducati has fewer miles, but less beauty.
Send your bloggers two essential texts on grammar – the iconic “The Elements of Style” by Strunk and White, and also “The Only Grammar Book You’ll Ever Need”, by Susan Thurman.
Also, have them use the free version of Grammarly.
5. Organization Is Vital
The days of the unorganized writer have passed – at least when delivering value to a client through consistent and frequent blogging.
All modern writers should educate themselves in the art of self-organization, whether that means blocking certain hours every day for blog work or writing down the weekly assignments across a whiteboard.
Whatever works – just as long as an organized system is present.
You want to know have trust in your bloggers, and not have to worry about them slacking here or there or forgetting an assignment. It’s also the leader’s job, whether the manager of an agency or company, to explain the importance of organization.
Have bloggers handwrite their week’s tasks in a daily planner. Provide one if they don’t have one.
I’m not about to explain the psychology behind it, but physically writing stuff down helps me organize better than any digital planner. Writers will likely appreciate the handwriting anyway.
6. Understands the Audience
For writers to blog effectively, they must understand the target audience.
You’ll explain things much differently to an audience nearing retirement versus a teenager. Again, agency/company leaders will need to provide this education to the blogger.
This is where marketing materials need to be shared, and CEOs need to engage with the blogger or agency. Also, sometimes there are various target audiences due to where a prospect is within the sales funnel (more in point 16 below), so it’s a leader’s duty to explain this.
Bloggers should be in constant conversation with the sales team, which is typically closest to the client and understands the client’s needs and questions.
This will help the blogger expand on topics and provide more value to readers.
7. Consistent with the Delivery of Voice & Style
Once bloggers understand the target audience, they must either continue or develop the company’s voice and style. All blogs should have a consistent voice.
Don’t be funny one day, satirical the next, and serious a week later. Keep consistency at the forefront.
Always create content in the same style, whether we’re talking about style guides or the way you create your content.
I like short, choppy sentences, and short paragraphs. I think it’s easier on the eyes and allows readers to digest quickly.
Others like longer sentences and chunky paragraphs.
Whatever you choose, stick with it.
In regards to style, some like Associated Press (AP), and others like the American Psychology Association (APA). Again, whatever you choose, stick with it.
Most copy on the web is written in AP styling, which is what newspapers and most magazines use. Send your blogger the latest AP Stylebook PDF or, better yet, the book version so they can always refer to it.
Another great reference book that covers AP and other styles like APA is “The best punctuation book, period.” by June Casagrande.
These two books should always be at arm’s length.
8. Open to Edits
This is vital, especially when working with a new client or business.
In the beginning, the blogger needs to fully focus on learning everything about that business, from the style/tone to the target audience.
In an agency situation, it’s a leader’s duty to explain this process to the client. I ask my blogging clients to be ruthless during the first few blog edits – not only for factual information but voice and style.
Be wary; the point of contact in the business might want to write for himself or herself instead of the company’s target audience. This is something that also should be discussed before any writing is completed.
At a minimum, have two extra sets of eyes on the blogs after they are written.
Even those with zero editing skills can pick up a missed fact or spelling error.
The more the better; I demand three separate sets of eyes at my agency after a writer hands in a blog, and we still sometimes find mistakes.
9. Creates 110% Original Content
Yeah – 110 percent. In theory, anything over 100 percent is impossible, but using 110 stresses that blog writers should strive for complete originality.
I’ve read numerous articles on the same subject, and sometimes they sound so similar it’s as if they all just had different titles. This happens all the time in the digital marketing world, and more so in the world of powersports/motorsports journalism.
This is the quantity over quality factor, and some writers are just trying to pump out endless blogs in hopes of making a positive impact on search engines. But one original article that pukes originality will overcome 10 worthless ones.
When you first hire a blogger, do yourself a favor and copy/paste the first few paragraphs into Google. I only found a writer to be plagiarizing once, but I would have likely lost a client due to it.
Make sure you explain there is no mercy for plagiarism. I only do this for the first or second blogs – after that I know I can trust writers because I only work with those that share my values for honesty and trust.
Plagiarism – even the most minimal version of it – will immediately sever (not severe!) the relationship.
10. Content Lacks Fluff
This is blogging – not the sometimes cheesy copywriting found within product or category copy.
Remember, all blog efforts should support the overall mission of TAR: Trust, Authority and Respect.
Kill the fluff and sales-forward copy. This is blogging that’s built to establish TAR.
Bloggers should never overuse adjectives or adverbs. Most are useless, though some may be a major help.
Have your bloggers read Hemmingway – the master of simplicity.
11. Understands SEO Basics
The more SEO a blogger knows the better. But again, as point #1 states, it’s better to have passion for the subject and proficiency for writing over SEO.
They should understand – and learn, if need be – keyword research and the use of related keywords.
Some of the best bloggers around know squat about SEO.
That’s why I’ve created a system in my agency that provides writers with “SEO Content Guidelines” for each blog. It includes things such as:
- The optimized title.
- Related keywords.
- Recommended word count.
- The top URLs ranking for the topic we’re after.
I tell bloggers not to mimic the competition, but rather understand what the competition is doing, and do it better. These are best created by an SEO with some creative writing skills.
Always ask the writer if they can create a better headline – and maybe ask for two so you can A/B test it.
12. Knows & Strengthens Company USPs Through Blogging
One of my agency’s unique selling positions (USP) is that it’s an SEO-driven content marketing agency with a focus on written content that helps a business refine and strengthen its USPs.
So when my writers create blogs for my agency’s website, this USP is reinforced. The same goes for my client’s content.
Every blogger should know the company’s or their client’s USPs, and strengthen them through blogging.
Again, this is on the leadership team to make sure the blogger knows just what makes the business or agency’s client stand apart from the rest, and this is why USPs are so vital for success.
Companies typical transform over time, which either pulls them away from a former USP or develop new ones.
To truly gain an edge with blogging, revisit older blogs and either refresh them with the newer USPs, or rewrite/delete them if they exploit an older USP.
13. Competitive Landscape Knowledge
Bloggers should have a deep knowledge of the business’s competitive landscape. This will further educate them, and allow them to witness and, better yet, predict future trends.
But take warning – nothing should be replicated unless you’re in the breaking news industry where stories will naturally repeat.
Have your blogger follow a news blog within the vertical he or she is writing about, and follow the top ranking blogs.
The easiest way is to simply google “(industry term) news”. A good example is “SEO news,” which brings up quite a reputable publication for SEO.
14. Willing to Promote & Share Personally
If writers are dedicated to their work, they will have no issues sharing the blogs they have created across their personal social media platforms. This also goes for the blogs without their bylines – most businesses blog under the company name.
Everyone knows the power of social and sharing, and having bloggers pitch in will help the blog’s mission with establishing the company’s TAR.
It also shows that the blogger values the business he or she is writing for – and that helps strengthen the relationship between blogger and company, or blogger and agency and company.
Be warned, though; some clients respectfully sign non-disclosures. If an NDA is present, sharing simply can’t happen.
If you have multiple bloggers, provide incentives to those who get the most shares over a period of time.
An example will be a $50 gift card to the blogger who gets the most shares over a quarter or so.
15. Bring Possible Solutions with Problems
This point was created for the leadership team.
Writers may have an issue with a blog’s direction, or with the criticism that some businesses have with voice or style. Don’t let them just whine about these types of issues.
If a problem exists, make sure the bloggers know that a possible solution must arrive with complaints. This will make the future workflow smoother, and less stressful.
And both of those concepts equate to higher quality writing, and, ultimately, retention of blogging services.
Have bloggers “sleep on” a problem before presenting it. As humans, we get caught in the moment and let our emotions guide the conversation.
Usually, after some time, the problem is much smaller than first assumed and dissolves itself. This is especially true for writers; I know from experience.
Two decades ago my emotions would always get the best of me over criticism on a piece of writing. Now, after getting away from the situation and letting my mind subconsciously do some thinking, most criticism is warranted.
16. Understands the Basic Sales Process
This is crucial – the more blog writers know about sales, the more intimate they can get with the businesses’ audience.
Talking with the sales team will help with this information. Bloggers should also know the sales process, including the sales funnel.
Knowledge of the sales funnel will add more granular details about the target audience, allowing the blogger to further expand on the content and make that business a more authoritative voice in its industry.
At my agency, I think in terms of where prospects are at within the sales funnel in regards to the content I produce. Most blog campaigns fall into the following model:
- 50% written for newbies: they don’t know much about your business or industry but are learning.
- 25% for intermediate: they are educated, but need that extra bit of incentive to become a client.
- 25% for experts: they are extremely knowledgeable about your industry/business, and are just looking for the right partner that will help scale their business. These blogs also speak to the existing clients through use in newsletters; this shows your clients that your business thrives to stay current and remain authoritative in the vertical.
I can use a quick example from my agency’s blog:
- 50% of the blogs are for those just learning about content creation and SEO.
- 25% are for those who understand content creation and SEO but are searching for reputable help.
- 25% for the experts, who are typically CMOs or SEO managers that are looking for immediate partners.
This is based on the current sales model, but that model is fluid and can change within weeks.
17. Constant Flow of Education
I can never stress enough about the constant need for ongoing education within anything, from career development to personal happiness.
This is especially true for writers, who can quickly become stagnant if always writing about the same things. The more a writer reads, the better a writer will become. There’s no debating this.
Send every blogger two essential texts on writing: “On Writing Well” by William Zinsser, and “Writing Tools” by Roy Peter Clark. And have them allocate at least a half-hour every day to read the latest blogs that discuss SEO writing.
The point of a blog is to establish a company’s TAR – Trust, Authority and Respect. But you just can’t hire any blogger or an agency; you must find one that aligns with your business’s core values and will provide the highest ROI possible.
Through two decades of writing professionally, and owning an agency that makes roughly 80% of its revenue from blogging, the skills above are an absolute must.
Remember, though, that everyone can acquire and build upon their skill levels. Once you have a blogger that excels in all 17 above, that’s when you can get them on autopilot and use more of your time to do what you do best.