A friend told me, "I don't really understand blogs. I don't get why people write them." He had more to say about why blogs don't really make sense to him, too, and I listened rather than trying to explain my own take on the topic. First, he wasn't really asking for my opinion; he was just telling me his thoughts. Also, the reasons people blog are so varied that it would be useless to attempt to take that on in casual conversation. Mostly, though, I listened because his confusion mirrors that of many. Our talk was similar to many I've had with clients.
I work with people who want attractive websites that are easy for them to update themselves. People often hire me because I only work with the Squarespace platform. Others have never heard of Squarespace but are thrilled to use it when they learn how easy it is to make simple changes on their own. These clients come to the idea of blogging with approaches as varied as "What is a blog?" and "I don't have anything to say," or "I don't want to keep an online diary" to "I'm really excited to finally try my hand at blogging."
Once I learn where they stand on having a blog - whether they call it "updates," a "journal" or "announcements," the inevitable next challenge emerges. They tell me: "I don't know how to blog." Squarespace (and other blogging platforms) makes it a piece of cake to add a blog to your site. "Learning how to blog" merely requires the commitment to put forth the effort to do so. I think we'll explore that question in a future blog post.
For now, let's return to the "why should I blog" question:
Among the things I tell my clients is that blogging about their businesses allows them to connect with their customers and clients. Having a space on their websites in which they can write about their industries, processes, and promotions brings a personal side to the pursuits they work so hard to make successful. Posting fresh content on an ongoing basis will create reasons for visitors to return again, instead of thinking of the site as an online brochure. Sometimes sharing a "back story" will interest a potential buyer enough that they'll decide to return to your site. You want people to return to your website. Maybe they'll become customers immediately and maybe they won't, but if they're visiting your site, they're thinking about you. We're more likely to buy from someone who's on our radar than someone who doesn't give us a reason to remember them. (Provided, of course, that the reason they're on our radar is for positive reasons.)
One of the features offered to customers using the Squarespace platform, is the built-in reporting of visitor statistics. People who use Squarespace and write blogs on those sites are given data about how many visitors are visiting, and how they got there. This helps us see when they're showing up to your blog. Even when they may not be leaving comments on what you write.
When artist Phyllis Sharpe blogged about what led her to paint "Ella's Tree," nobody left comments on that specific post. However her site's traffic has steadily increased, and sometimes her visitors comment enthusiastically. Also? One day I was speaking with a woman who had just hired me to design her website. She told me she'd looked through my portfolio and had visited Phyllis's site. She then said, "I read some of her blog and really enjoyed it. I love knowing where artists get their inspiration; that piece about the orange tree fascinated me. Knowing that story added a certain dimension to the picture of her painting." This woman's remark could have been pulled from an actual conversation Phyllis and I had had months earlier, about the kinds of things that would be appropriate in a fine art painter's blog. It was gratifying to hear an assessment that directly affirmed some of our ideas.
Remembering this feedback, along with my other friend's candid admission that blogs don't make sense to him, inspire me to be more clear in my intentions when I share insights into the benefits of blogging. It also challenges me to clarify my own blog's purpose. I don't see me ever wanting it to become "niche" since my interests are so diverse. But clarity is never a bad thing. This post feels like a small step in the right direction.