If you’re reading this, you’re likely sold on the merits of business blogging. Whether your goal is to build brand awareness, drive top-of-funnel traffic, cultivate thought leadership or all of the above, right now you’re more interested in the “how” of blog management than the “why.”

So let’s cut to the chase.

What you’ll need

Besides realistic expectations and a willingness to not half-ass this thing?

Writers

We need to acknowledge the obvious before we talk strategy or search engine optimization: blogs need written copy. Even a video blog needs words to give pretext to the audience, and to Google (because search engines parse text). And for that, you need writers.

Do you hire in house? Handle the writing on your own? Contract freelancers? Outsource to a blog management agency?

If you are your brand (a motivational speaker, a musician, a personal trainer) and you have writing chops, you may get away with handling the bulk of your blog writing.

Even then, you’ll need an editor – someone eagle-eyed and attentive to detail to keep you honest (are you being consistent with your use of title case or lack thereof? Are you using Oxford commas? Are you rambling? Are you sure it’s a good idea to post that?).

If you’re a business with an actual marketing team, you probably don’t have time to ideate, create, edit and post high-quality blog content, in which case, you’ll have to weigh a few options:

  • Creating an internal blog management team is expensive (the average annual salary for one content writer with one to five years’ experience is between $47,750 and $71,750, according to Robert Half). Maybe not the best route, especially for SMBs.
  • There’s no shortage of interns seeking experience, but they tend to be seasonal and unseasoned. A mixed bag, at best.
  • Freelancers are a good, cost-effective option, but you’ll need someone internally to assign, curate, edit and post blogs (same goes for interns).
  • Finally, you could commision a firm that staffs agency writers, editors, strategists and project managers.

Generally, any business that’s serious enough to have a formal marketing budget will get more bang their buck going the agency route (and we’re not just saying this because we have skin in the game). You get more than just writers with a blog management service, which is a perfect segue into the second thing you’ll need …

Tools and technology

You need an actual blog. That means you need a web content management system for uploading and posting content.

WordPress is the undisputed lord of open source CMS. A third of the top 10 million websites are powered by WordPress, and no wonder: WordPress is easy to set up and it has a plugin for just about everything under the sun. You have to pay for domain and hosting (but you probably already knew that). Other great CMS (which we meticulously graded in a recent post) include:

  • HubSpot.
  • Joomla.
  • Drupal.
  • Squarespace.

Moving on to Google Analytics – the single-most important content marketing tool in the known universe. It shows you, among other things:

  • Pageviews.
  • Number of new and returning visitors.
  • Traffic sources.
  • Bounce rate (aka, number of users who split after viewing one page.)
  • Average session duration.
  • Conversions.

A skilled content strategist looks at this data and uses it to diagnose what you’re doing wrong on your blog, what you’re doing right and what you can do to improve (this will be important when we talk about commercial goals later on).

Other blogging functions that require some solid tools?

Keyword and topic analysis

We recommend:

  1. Google Trends: Search for a phrase and see how it’s trending. Totally free.
  2. SEMrush: Not free, but worth it if you want to perform competitive keyword analysis and identify new key phrases that pertain to your products and services.
  3. MarketMuse: Again, not free but worth the cost. Identifies topics, secondary keywords, average word count (a good indicator of depth) and top-performing pages for a given keyword.

Ideation resources

For inspiration (and affirmation) as you develop blog ideas:

  1. AnswerThePublic: This free tool analyzes Google and Bing to generate a list of questions that actual searchers have asked pertaining to your chosen keywords.
  2. Buzzsumo: If you go the freemium route you’re limited to two free daily searchers; otherwise it’ll cost you. This nifty tool shows you, among other things, the topics that have performed well on specific social media channels.

When all else fails there’s a Google search. Scroll to the bottom of the page for “Searches related to” your query.

Apparently, and perhaps unsurprisingly, Google seems to think that people who search for “apples” aren’t looking for fruit.

Writing tools

Seems obvious, but worth pointing out.

  1. Google Docs: A free alternative to Microsoft Office (which Google now seamlessly integrates with). Enables track changes, formatting, version control and the whole nine yards. Google Sheets also comes in handy as an organizational tool.
  2. A style book: We recommend AP Style (not free), but you can create your own in-house style guide if you want. This will help multiple writers create more polished, uniformly styled content across a blog.

Graphics

Because grownups like pictures, too.

  1. Giphy: It’s easy enough to liven up a blog post with a free, relatable GIF.
  2. Canva: With 8,000 design templates, two folders to help organize designs, 2 gigabytes of storage and more, Canva makes it pretty darn easy to create custom imagery for your blog content.

Conversion tools

For gathering emails and building a list of subscribers. Below is a list of free pop-up contact forms:

  1. WPForms (lite version).
  2. List Builder for Sumo.
  3. MailMunch.

If you handle some or all of your blogging in house, there’s a laundry list of free resources to get you started, which is refreshing given the time commitments and costs of operating and managing a blog in house.

Also worth pointing out: The tools you actually need will be influenced by your strategy, so let’s talk a bit more about that.

A strategy

We won’t go into too much detail here, because we’ve already done that elsewhere.

But the Cliff Notes are as follows:

  • Every blog is evidently driven by a clear commercial goal. But every commercial goal is an end; smart blogging is about identifying the right means to that end. Let’s say the leads you get are good, but you need more of them. Your immediate blogging goal, then, should be to increase traffic. Verify that your efforts are working by tallying monthly visitors prior to launching your blog campaign, and then a month or two into the campaign to track progress. You can concurrently drive traffic and build out lead gen strategies if you have the means. But if you’re short on resources and can’t do everything at once, get the traffic part down pat, and then evolve to lead gen.
  • Be analytical as you implement your strategy. Say you have good traffic but poor session duration. This could signify poor keyword selection (note that sometimes searchers don’t use the correct name when they look for things). It could also mean your content isn’t covering a keyword in enough depth. Start analyzing content that’s performing best for the keywords your brand is targeting (could be from competitors, some of your own content, from industry blogs and so on). Identify topics they may be covering that you aren’t (again, MarketMuse is an excellent tool for this).
  • In that same vein, you need a clear picture of your target audience. Create detailed reader personas. Identify those readers’ objectives and their pain points, the types of industries they work in, their professional titles, their age, how they like to consume their content and so on. This will help you figure out the types of content that will be of greatest value to your audience. It will also help you nail down your writing voice, use appropriate pop culture references, etc. (Many a “Lethal Weapon” reference will be lost on 25-year-olds.)

Putting all the pieces together

Ok, so we have writers, some tools and a strategy built around a commercial goal. Good start, but you’ll also need someone to manage the strategy and someone to manage the execution.

Respectively, that translates to:

  1. A content strategist or consultant: These experts use your commercial goals and website metrics to orient your blogging efforts but also your content marketing strategy at large. For instance, SEO is crucial if you’re attempting to drive more traffic to your website. If your traffic is steady but your list of leads is thin, you might need to create a new mechanism for bringing visitors deeper into the funnel (e.g., links to gated collateral in your blog content). Whatever the case, you need someone in your organization who is Google Analytics certified to identify the surest path to success for a given goal, track the results of your efforts and reorient based on outcomes.
  2. A project manager: A project manager works as closely with strategists as the writers and designers who produce blog content. They oversee every phase of execution, from the ideation of content to any supporting functions (orchestrating interviews with subject-matter experts, communicating strategist’ keyword research findings to writers, setting deadlines, proofing drafts, posting content, distributing content and, eventually, promoting content.)

The relationship between writers, project managers and strategists needs to be open and collaborative. Put them in silos, and you’re asking for friction and misalignment of expectations (trust us, we’ve learned from experience).

This is partly because content marketing is cyclical. You strategize based on the status quo and a projected end goal. You do. You review. And then you revisit based on what you’ve learned. This means processes, workflows and tool sets may need to change rather extensively between campaigns.

Sometimes you may even have to pivot quickly on a project, and if the stakeholders involved in that project don’t have clarity into the “why,” they’ll be dubious of directives that come from other departments. Point is, you can be the most SEO-savvy person in your hemisphere and still fail at coordinating a well-oiled blog management machine. (Isiah Thomas was formidable on the court but downright sucky on the sidelines.)

The big picture: Blog management is about more than your blog

What do we mean by this?

Here’s an example: Blogs can be great for capturing emails if you incorporate a “subscribe” button or a contact form somewhere on the page. But you will need to give your visitor something in exchange, like a white paper, infographic, eBook or industry analysis report. Are you budgeting time, money and effort for those downloadable assets that allow your blog to drive deeper-funnel interactions?

And even before that, do you have enough of a web presence to actually generate any blog traffic in the first place? Think about it from the perspective of a social media marketer. You need blog content so you have something to share with followers. But you need social media channels so you have followers in the first place to promote your blog content to. It’s impossible to tease the two apart.

This is to say, anyone can create a blog. Anyone can write. Anyone can do keyword research. But blog management isn’t just about blogging.

It’s about your business and how you create value during the entirety of your sales cycle – from first contact, all the way to post-sale engagements.

That takes more than incisive writers, creative designers, diligent editors, SEO tools, an effective strategy and the staff to orchestrate the whole thing.

It takes vision, it takes corporate buy-in, it takes time and, most importantly, it takes commitment.

Like we said, no half-assing here.

Dominick Sorrentino is a senior writer in Chicago. He's a wordsmith who endeavors to use language, story-telling and creativity to solve problems. He enjoys pizza, the musical styling of A Tribe Called Quest, traveling, a good conversation and, of course, putting pen to paper.