By Tony Mastri

As a small business owner, you’re no stranger to the benefits of business blogging. Just about every third small business blog article published these days is drilling the importance of inbound marketing and establishing thought leadership — and for good reason. These strategies work!

In fact, business-to-business marketers who leverage blogging for their company generate 67% more leads than those who do not.

Whether or not you should be blogging is not longer the issue. How to do it successfully is the hot topics these days.

Maybe you’re still doing your company’s blogging, or you have one or two employees that take care of your company website and blog. Regardless of how your posts are being written, are they effective? Can you prove it?

If you think back to the stat about 67% more leads and say, “I haven’t noticed 67% more leads since I’ve started blogging,” you should take a step back and evaluate. You’ve got to put your best foot forward from the very start, and learn how to decide what to write about.

There are two main small business blog starting points. If you’re employing a free blog topic generator, or using your business blog to brag about how great your company’s products are, a congratulations are in order. We just diagnosed why your blog isn’t reaching its full potential.

In my years of content strategy experience, I’ve found that blog posts should ultimately take shape in one of two ways.

  1. Identify a group of keywords that are relevant to the needs of your target audience, and develop a comprehensive blog post around that keyword group.
  2. Use your deep industry knowledge to write about a prevalent industry topic, and retroactively find keywords that can help your blog post rank.

Both approaches are perfectly legitimate, but there is a clear front-runner. Here are some details about the writing process for each method.

1. Start with a keyword — then create the content.

As a content marketer with a strong search engine optimization background, I find this to be the ideal approach.

Knowing which handful of keywords you need to include in your blog post before it’s written will help you create meaningful context, and a pleasing aesthetic. In other words, your blog will flow better and seem natural to readers while still having a high probability of ranking and pulling in organic traffic.

You need to find out two important pieces of information: what are your competitors ranking for, and are their audiences engaging with those high ranking blog posts?

A blog post should rank well so it can generate consistent traffic for your site. But, unless the topic is relevant and well-received by your target audience, the high levels of traffic won’t convert into paying customers.

Use tools like SEMrush or Ahrefs to see which keywords your competitors are ranking for. Identify which of their pages are ranking for those keywords, and check to see if those pages are being shared. This will be easy if their pages have share counters, but you can use BuzzSumo if that’s not the case.

2. Start with the content — then find the keywords.

This approach usually tends to get a little sticky.

Many times, this will situation will occur when a new law is announced, or news breaks that affects your industry. No keywords exist that can be researched for the matter at hand. You write the blog post, then find the most closely related keywords and try to work them into the article wherever you can.

The result is usually a robotic mess of words.

This method would be like building a skyscraper in a rural area. Sure, the rooms are gorgeous, and anyone would find the accommodations to be high quality — but nobody is looking for a room. You can scramble to advertise your beautiful new building to all of the surrounding cities, but you won’t find more than a handful of interested tenants.

Creating blog content, and adding keywords afterward is generating supply before checking to see if there is demand. Just because you built the better mousetrap doesn’t mean they will come.

This approach may help you appease search engines in 2017, but your readers might not be happy. It’s likely that traffic to this type blog post will cease as soon as you stop pushing it on your audience through social media or email newsletters.

The Solution: Address demand before supply while blogging for your business.

The big takeaway — both approaches can result in a valuable blog post for your target audience, but only one will create a steady flow of traffic. Check to see if your potential customers are asking questions before you force an answer on them.