The more the internet kind of stays the same…
The good news is that it is only getting easier to publish a professional blog. If you have any kind of computer and a smartphone, you are half way there. It’s the other half that makes the difference between a blog with substance and one that is superficial. It is somehow ironic that while it is getting easier to blog, there seem to be fewer and fewer good ones in the paint industry, by comparison with other fields.
As an editorial writer for APC magazine, my opinion is frequently sought by both contractors and all types of industry folks with questions about online platforms in general, and blogs in particular, in the paint industry. Because I am as much a reader as I am a writer, I have a pretty good idea of what it is out on the internet for content.
Some common blogging types:
- Social media “experts” trying to consult (sell services to) contractors
- Contractors trying to consult (sell services to) consumers
- Contractors trying to “position themselves as the expert” to anyone who may be listening
Twitter and Facebook are interesting in their capacity to display the ways in which all of these types of blogs are promoted. Disappointingly, in most cases, blog content rarely is substantive enough to back up the nice pictures and catchy titles. Whoever is running the blogs advising on how to use nice pictures and catchy titles is doing a great job by the way. However, I have always said, it makes little sense to have a whole bunch of sizzle and no steak to savor.
Here are a few general rules for effective blog sites:
- Stay active with your blog and vary your styles of content delivery
- Don’t get lazy and just use simple social media from your phone to feed a sidebar blog widget
- Don’t do teasers announcing content or material that somehow never materializes
- While visual appeal is important, content will always be king
- Content should be written for real readers, not keyword loaded for google spiders
Now, a few specific observations for bloggers of the consultant and contractor flavors. These are my opinions as a reader, but also as a professional freelance writer.
Website Builders and Social Media Experts: Practice what you Preach
Practice good habits and practice what you preach. Don’t try to sell contractors a website or blog that is going to have great content, when your own is poorly written, even if well laid out with good navigation. Your potential clients want to look at your site or blog, and expect you to build them a better one. Further, its common knowledge that putting together a WordPress site is easy enough that most anyone can do it with little cost involved.
Selling WordPress platforms does not make you a website design and construction guru.
I suck at computer stuff, and even I can pull off a WordPress site. So, don’t glamorize something that is immensely accessible and put a stilted price tag on it. Don’t tell contractors what their clients are looking for. While the internet has shrunk the world, contractors are still likely to know their clients and target demographic better than a consultant in Omaha.
At times it is laughable how a “consultant” will tell you that they will drive people to your site, and build your audience, or following. How can a consultant get you thousands of followers when they only have dozens themselves? Too busy doing it for others? Sometimes they explain it away by saying they don’t care how many subscribers you have, they will get you “conversions” or sales. Why do I not see a robust portfolio of real client work on their own sites as evidence that they do this effectively for their own businesses? A little less talk, and a lot more action. If a consultant doesn’t do well at engaging people socially (that is what social media is about, right?), what reason is there to believe that they will manage your program better than their own?
And please, for the love of God, do not use fear tactics to try to get contractors to click your paypal button. I am also scratching my head a bit over the new spin on social media management, wherein it is now being sold as “reputation management”. Is there some special content feed that consultants have access to that contractors don’t? I can sit at my LinkedIn feed and grab every relevant article, and scan through them probably faster than most consultants, and I bet I can figure out how to implement what I read.
Further, bashing on the fear of google and seo is tiresome. Contractors can check a consultant site ranking to assess their mastery in placing their own site. That’s how I would judge a consultant’s ability to promote my program effectively. Google is not the evil empire that many consultants would like contractors to believe. Playing by the rules and implementing a few simple plug ins can get a site ranking well enough to be found by the demographic you want to find you. Not everyone can be in the top 3 on page one. Its not life or death. Personally, I would rather have a killer site that ranked 10th than a crap site that ranked 4th.
Other observations in the consultant crowd:
- Don’t overuse video, not everyone loves your mug and voice as much as you do
- Don’t overuse auto feed to all of your social media outlets as the primary vehicle of your “reach”
- If people see one recycled piece simultaneously on LI, G+, FB, Twitter and Youtube, its annoying
- If you are too lazy (we know you are not “that” busy) to freshen and put variety into your own stuff…you know
Do contractors want to spend all of their time working on social media, blog site maintenance and seo?
No. So, contractors need reliable, honest people to rely on who practice good habits and practice what they preach. Bloggingpainters.com is a great place to check out consultants who go out of their way to interact with contractors.
Which brings us to…
Contractors: Show Don’t Tell
Honestly, most contractor blogs are painful, for one reason or another. When I read them, I am sometimes embarrassed for them. Even, and often especially, when they are run by third parties that basically serve as recycled content farms. Bottom line, if you set a blog up, keep it real and keep it active, or don’t bother. I’ll save the sales blog genre junk list for another day. For now, just work on the general observations shared here.
If you are into product reviewing, which hopefully you aren’t, because it has become a bit of a joke on the internet, but if you are:
- Don’t just use video
- Video is to be used as a supplement to good written and image based content
- Video has to be compelling. I swear, I have seen ones that just show a can of paint being opened. Wow.
- If you can’t show the product in real jobsite action, being used for its intended purpose, don’t bother
- Resist the temptation to compare every product to your favorite similar product
- If you are writing about product ABC, make the review about product ABC
- If you are comparing ABC to DEF, thats cool, but be thorough on both and back it up
Paint contractor blogs often become mud puddles. Since writing is usually not a paint contractors strength, they often appear confused as to who their audience is and what they should be writing about. The default mode seems to be to write about what they think they know best, which is painting and paint products.
Even if you decide to give yourself some special title on your blog, like “product evaluator”,”paint critic” or “field genius”, remember that you are expressing your opinions, based on your own experience. And without some real credential, you are ultimately a painter who may or may not be an expert. When a painter states it to be “fact” that paint xyz dries slow, and the only evidence is a few pieces of wood on cardboard in the garage, its not credible. It would be safe to assume that paint manufacturers, while not everyday painters, are at least competent enough to test their paints more thoroughly on benches in a better controlled real laboratory environment than you can.
Don’t be a lab reviewer. Do it in the field, and show it. That would be interesting.
Be careful of your choices of pronouns.
Some bloggers say “we found this” and “we found that”, but there is oddly just one person, one voice, one opinion expressed on the blog. This is misleading, at best. No one likes to be deceived when researching, especially for purchase decisions. If you are actually a “we”, let the other people involved in your blog contribute, or at least be visible in the content as well. More opinions make for a more interesting and diverse reading experience. Readers appreciate that. Its kind of the premise behind bloggingpainters.com: many contributors. Would you read a magazine that only had one contributor?
If you are reviewing paints or paint related gear, don’t try to pretend to be a laboratory of paint chemical analysis. If you are not showing jobsite based test footage, you are probably “testing” in your garage, basement, or even on the dining room table. No matter how closely cropped or high resolution the photos, usually there are “tells”. In other words, don’t overstate who you are. Earn credibility by understating and over delivering with real content. This is organic and real. It also happens to be what real readers want to see, and what google wants to refer searchers to.
If you can’t show product in numerous real world settings, probably avoid calling it a review.
If it is a quick blurb about your first impression of something, your opinion may be appreciated by your readers, but its probably not conclusive enough to make a real statement. I see this alot on the tool side in “open box reviews”. These are absurd two minute videos of the latest and greatest tools, wherein the “reviewer” has just received his order and unpackages it for you on video, and shows you what came in the box. Not particularly useful content, and usually just a stunt to gain the seo juice of the hot new highly searched term. If you show paint on a few sticks in your garage, that’s minimally interesting, but the more thorough paint contractor/blogger who applies bunches of gallons on a paid job and shows it in action at a true professional level will probably be more interesting to read. Tommy Johnson of Johnson Home Construction comes to mind as a great example of the right balance in all these areas.
Be honest and real in the promotion of your blog.
If you tell people through social media that your blog is the best in its genre, people will expect to see reader activity on it. Reader comments are a great sign that you are producing relevant content, and it is important to respond to readers who take the time to comment. Comments are a sign of good traffic on your blog. Lack of activity does not mean that your articles are so thorough that no one has any questions or comments. If your work was that good, you would have bunches of people commenting about how much they appreciate your wisdom. Often, people go to blogs not only to read what the blog writer has to say, but to check out other readers’ experiences with the products featured on the blog. If there is no activity, people lose interest, you lose traffic, google probably sends fewer searchers. Also, keep the spam out of the comment section. It boosts numbers, but is a major turn off to readers and implies a not so well maintained blog.
Blogging is a lot of work, especially when supported by an integrated social media campaign, which is a great way to get the word around. Whether you work with a legitimate consultant or administer it yourself: Keep it real, keep it fun and keep it honest. The paint industry needs more of that.