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By Ann Handley –

“We tried blogging,” my friend Pete said to me recently. “It didn’t work.”

Pete, who owns a seafood shop not far from the small town where I live, was referring to the WordPress blog he and his partners had started to provide information about specials and promotions. But, according to Pete, nobody visits the blog or comments on their posts. It drives no measurable awareness, traffic or sales.

Can you relate? Do you get zero online traffic? Or maybe you have different marketing challenges: Perhaps you have traffic but aren’t converting those leads into paying customers. And when it comes to social media, maybe you feel like there’s no point, because it seems as if you’re broadcasting into a black hole.

Take a deep breath: You’re not alone. Here are three common mistakes marketers make–and how to fix them.

Mistake No. 1: Expecting a blog to effortlessly generate traffic and awareness.

It’s true, blogs can and should do this (as well as help with search rankings). But it doesn’t happen magically; it takes more than a template, some filler text and a sprinkle of pixie dust. For a relevant, sustainable blog, your posts should address who you are and who your audience is, and they should effectively communicate these things in specific ways.

First: What are you all about? What makes you special? What’s the real value of what you offer? Your value as a business lies not in what you sell but in the bigger picture of what you are able to do for others. An artisan of hand-carved bookmarks sells, well, bookmarks. But what he really sells is the pleasure of the page–the joy of reading and discovery.

Second: Who do you want to reach? Have you created an ideal buyer in your mind’s eye and communicated this throughout your organization? (Marketers call this “developing buyer personas.”) Do you understand your buyers’ needs and wants? Are you creating interesting, relevant, useful content for them–teaching them things, solving their problems –rather than just talking about yourself? Keep in mind that blogging isn’t a one-and-done exercise; it’s an ongoing commitment, so invest the time to let it take root and grow.

Third: Consider how you are getting your message across. Is your blog full of big chunks of unwieldy text? Or are you writing snappy pieces with images, videos and audio to tell your story with personality, empathy and utility? Do you see your blog as merely a task? Or do you see it for what it is: an inherently rich opportunity to connect with customers in exciting and unprecedented ways? (Hint: It should be the latter.)

Real-world application: Instead of talking up specials and promotions, my friend Pete might want to use his blog to share seasonal recipes, cookbook reviews or behind-the-scenes views of the docks where he gets his fish. He could share his thoughts on the benefits of buying local or his perspective on sustainable fishing. He could organize a book signing and a tasting that involves a favorite cookbook author and post photos of the event online. Any of these ideas would tell a broader story that customers can find value in–a story of community, sustainability and responsibility. He wouldn’t be talking up his brand so much as sharing what his brand stands for–and giving customers a compelling reason to patronize his shop. Local Cape Cod oysters? Get in ma belly!

Mistake No. 2: Thinking social media is a black hole.

Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest and LinkedIn can suck up a lot of time for little return. The efforts of many businesses fall scattershot, wasted and unmeasurable.

Your social media efforts should be intelligent and strategic, not haphazard.

First: Identify specific goals. Do you want to grow brand awareness? Drive traffic to your website and generate sales? Grow your e-mail list?

Next: Identify which channels will make the best use of your time based on where your customers are, as well as your own inclinations. (How do you know where your customers are? Ask them!)

Focus on connecting with certain groups of people based on their stated interests and social activity. Identify influencers within your industry and communicate with them. Use social channels to listen and engage, rather than broadcast. (Pro tip: That listening thing is a vastly underrated use of social media for customer intelligence. Social networks are great places to mine for information about what people care about and what truly gets them excited and talking.)

Measure your efforts according to your stated goals. Pay attention to what’s working and adapt accordingly. How do you know what’s working? At a minimum, monitor your web traffic and Google Analytics. Additionally, use automation tools that can manage how you are engaging with customers across various channels, and track their behavior to understand the likelihood of a purchase.

Real-world application: For Pete, certain social channels might make more sense for his business than others. Perhaps he could shoot an early-morning video at the docks and post it to Facebook as a means of talking about where our food comes from. He could even start an #uglyfish contest through Instagram and Pinterest; with his analytics and other intelligence, he might find that his Pinterest “Ugly but tasty fish” board is generating high traffic to his website. Hooray–monkfish for all!

Mistake No. 3: You’ve got plenty of traffic, but no customers.

Your target audience knows and loves you. People are connecting with your message. So why aren’t they buying?

The key is to create a path to conversion for people who are already on your site. Make sure each page is optimized for getting visitors more deeply involved with your content or your business by embedding relevant (and focused!) calls to action. Don’t leave visitors hanging after a post, article or page–make it clear what you want them to do next.

Real-world application: If Pete really wants to build a database of customers, each page of his blog or site should include a call to action, such as a newsletter sign-up or an opportunity to download an e-book of recipes. He should embed those calls in three distinct locations: immediately under the header, after a post and on the sidebar. And each should link to a specific landing page that makes it crystal clear what the value is for the customer. Fiery fish tacos with crunchy corn salsa to celebrate Valentine’s Day? Sign me up!

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