• Alison Folwell

Why bother blogging? Marketing for merchants 101

Think writing a business blog is a total waste of time? We're here to challenge that perception and let you know why blogging could be a great marketing tool for your merchant business. and give you some helfpul hints to get started.

If you’re new to digital or ecommerce, or have always seen your website as a functional source of practical information for customers such as opening hours, location or contact details, you may not consider a blog to be important.

The fact is though, there’s more to blogging than meets the eye. Blogging can actually be a really valuable business tool which can:

- attract new customers

- increase customer loyalty

- drive purchase and purchase frequency

- raise brand profile

- improve awareness

So let's take a look at the why, the what and the how of blogging.

Get found more often by more people

One of the biggest business benefits of blogging is that it actively helps more people to find your website. When used in conjunction with insights about the key words and phrases people use to find your products and services, it can be a really powerful driver of traffic to your website.

Most searches for businesses these days start with a Google search (other search engines are available!) And few people ever bother scrolling past the first page, and often not beyond the first few results. In fact, it’s reported that 33% of clicks go to the top search result alone. Remember to think about how people really search for products, rather than just thinking about the proper names for things – and that trade customers probably use a different vocabulary for products than private ones!

The content on your website is, among other things, what defines where your business is listed in the results for a given search term. But there is fierce competition for some of these so to rank high organically (i.e. not through a paid advert which will cost a lot for the more common terms), you need good quality, relevant, regularly refreshed content that search algorithms will be compatible with.

The other great thing about this is that you can use quite specific phrases to hook people looking for services or products like yours. So while “builders merchant near me” may list every business for 50 miles, “best non-slip decking for garden renovation” will return a much more specific list, so you can create blogs that reflect the products and services you offer to get more people finding you.

Keeps web content fresh for search engines – and for customers

What search engines want (coming soon to Netflix) changes all the time, and it’s a good idea to keep your content fresh and regularly updated. A blog is a great way to do that.

Don’t forget too, that a growing percentage of the population will check a company’s website way before they’ll ever think about visiting them in person. This digital generation has high expectations, and if your website still has your Christmas opening hours front and centre in August, it doesn’t create a great impression.

Having a blog allows you to appear up to date and relevant. You don’t need to be talking about the latest royals scandal or Boris’ haircut, but keeping your content fresh will definitely give a better impression than letting it sit dormant for months.

Build customer relationships, trust and loyalty

Blogs can be incredibly helpful. And if you offer helpful, reliable advice, people will start to trust that you know what you’re doing – and they’ll come back next time, and the time after that. Blogging can be a huge help in building relationships with new potential customers (and strengthening those with existing ones) so give people what they need!

More and more people are embarking on significant home improvement projects, but if they don’t know where to start, they’ll ask the internet. So if you have a range of “How to..” blogs that offer practical advice on common household jobs, you could not only drive more people to your website, but build loyalty and trust while doing it.

Trade customers need to work with suppliers they can trust, and blogs and case studies are a great way to build credibility and authority. If you have a particularly extensive range of a given material, shout about it and get known for it.

But what do you write about? It honestly could be anything from how to change a plug to choosing the most energy-efficient lightbulbs; how to fit a new kitchen tap or when to plant spring bulbs. Tie it in with the products you offer (and better still, link to those products or services from the blog) to keep it relevant. You might want to talk about a recent construction project that your materials were used for, share a story of the grassroots football team you sponsor, or flag up the donation you just made to a local charity.

If you have a loyalty card or newsletter database, blogs are a great way to keep people reading and clicking through to the site, so think about what people are working on throughout the year and theme your blog accordingly.

Raise awareness for new products, materials, services or events

In a blog you can talk at more depth about a particular product range, service offering or upcoming event. You may find that suppliers already have content they’d be happy to share with you (and some will even pay for the privilege) so this could also be a great way to build your supplier relationships as well.

Blogging is much cheaper than advertising so it can be a really good option for getting the word out about a new, improved or discounted range, and it can also establish your authority as experts for particular products or materials. Plus, It is reported that 70% of people would rather learn about a company’s products or services from a blog than from an advert!

Build a community and create partnerships

You might decide to use your blog to raise awareness for a local charity, to thank a local supplier for particularly great service, or to highlight local events, causes or tradespeople. A blog can be a real driver of community, and you will usually find that when you help other people out with a mention or link, they’ll be very happy to do the same for you. The internet is a funny thing, but often when you add value for others, you’ll reap the rewards.

Why not invite a local horticulture expert to write a blog for you on seasonal planting; a local landscaper on the best garden improvements; or perhaps an architect or interior designer to talk about new trends – and how you can achieve them on a budget from your local merchants. Why not invite a local environmental group to talk about ways to make your home more sustainable, from energy efficient lightbulbs to tap fittings – whatever you think your customers might be interested in. Thinking local is a great way to give something back to your local community and provide useful advice for customers – and it doesn’t have to cost you a penny.

From a technical perspective it also helps your search credibility to have plenty of external links both to and from your website, so the more relevant links you can build up, the better. And of course being mentioned on lots of other local business websites is always a bonus.

It can create media opportunities

You might be surprised at what stories you can uncover once you start blogging, and at how interested local (or even national) press and radio might be in covering those stories.

Perhaps your business figures are showing an unusual trend for a particular product, maybe a celebrity has started shopping with you, or maybe one of your branch managers is running an ultra marathon in Norway for a local charity. Whatever it is, blogging can open a whole world of opportunities for getting the media to talk about your business and raise awareness

So what do you blog about?

We’ve talked about some idea above but honestly, it’s up to you. You don’t need to be a pro writer and you certainly don’t need to waffle on for thousands of words (not like we do!) Short and to the point usually works best. Here are a few tried and tested ideas to get you started:

- “How to” guides are a great idea for added value, interesting and genuinely helpful content (particularly linked to products and services you offer!)

- Helpful advice that links with what people are searching for will help drive traffic. Use a keyword programme to analyse this and create content to answer common questions, like What do I need to lay a patio, how do I build a garden bar, or how can I create a home office

- Keep an eye on “trending” topics and create content that appeals to them – “how do I make my bathroom more eco friendly,” for example. Long search terms might not get as many clicks but they’ll be far more relevant when they do.

- Use videos and photos if you don’t like writing – videos are really powerful, they keep people on your site longer and they can get a lot of information across quickly and easily. A reported 72% of people would rather watch a video than read an article. And blogs that contain pictures get around 94% more views than those without any!

- Go “behind the scenes” and celebrate your staff. Doing a staff profile, rewarding long service or great performance is not only brilliant for staff morale and motivation, it’s also interesting to your customers

- New products, promotions, ranges, discounts, bargains, time-limited offers etc etc etc – you know the drill

- Customer success stories, good reviews, feedback etc – always great for showing off how great your service is without, you know, showing off. Other people’s praise goes a lot further than your own words so use those reviews to good use!

- Values related content is popular and is great for building credibility, trust and likeability

– charities, fundraising, good causes and putting values into action, for example donating materials to a local homeless shelter or taking part in a tree planting initiative

- Don’t try to do too much selling. Helpful information is great, but people are wary of being “sold to” a lot. So keep blogs informative, succinct and relevant – and you won’t go far wrong

Of course, once you've written your blog, you'll need to share it to help people find it. But that's for another day.

Have you got any advice to add? Have you had any great blog successes? We’d love to hear from you if so!

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