I’m going to acknowledge the hypocrisy right away by noting that yes, I blog fairly frequently. Except that’s out of my own volition; I write because I enjoy writing and because I’m a loudmouth who likes expressing his opinions in a written format on topics that interest me, many of which happen to coincide with this tech company I run. I’m not doing this as some sort of mandated task because I’m not under the illusion that this amount of writing is going to drive me up in search results, but we’ll get to that.
This also technically isn’t even a business website; I’ve built a sizable, scalable, recurring revenue business through my personal website which is something I do take a little bit of pride in. Mandated blogging through a personal website to promote a separate company makes very little sense given who my target audience is. All of my business comes from ways I’ve been promoted other than search engine results but we’ll get to that too.
If you’re a small business or you’ve researched how to market yourself online, odds are that in some capacity you’ve been pitched on the idea that you need a business blog to “tell your story” or some variation of that. Blogs have always been an effective communications tool as far back as the late 1990s but they started getting heavily co-opted as part of cookie-cutter online marketing mixes in the early 2010s. So what changed?
Enter Google’s Panda Update. Back in February of 2011 Google pushed this new update in order to fight back against content farms, SEO spam and abuse of its algorithm. The stated purpose of the update is to “reward high-quality websites and diminish the presence of low-quality websites in Google’s organic search engine results.” In short, it was designed both to reward quality writing and to adversely affect websites with high volumes of poorly written articles.
This doesn’t exclusively mean blogging, but it coincided with the rapid rise of streamlined website publishing CMS platforms like WordPress, Drupal, Squarespace, Wix and many others. This in turn kickstarted a trend that began in the early 2010s that made blogging a much more central part of a marketing mix for SEO and brand awareness purposes. On paper it does make sense considering that blogging does positively impact your search engine standings with Google – provided you’re doing it consistently and effectively.
The problem is that most marketing agencies will frequently use a pre-existing playbook rather than tailoring solutions to individual client needs, which is why their service packages come with a blog regardless of how appropriate it is for the business in question. Or worse, they don’t actually question clients on whether they actually need a blog, which turns them into yes-men rather than advisors.
Generally the sales pitch is “You need a blog to improve your SEO! It’s super important!” or some variation of this. The rise of generative AI and ChatGPT has brought renewed interest to the supposedly urgently needed blogs for small business websites because of how “easy” it supposedly is to generate blog content.
The problem is that most people 1) Have no interest in writing their own blogs 2) Lack the time to write their own blogs in a manner that would qualify as “quality content” in the first place 3) Don’t want to or can’t afford to spend the money on a dedicated copywriter over years of blogging, writing and publishing.
In spite of this most business owners generally give it a shot. The sales pitch is an easy one, whether a business owner sets out to do it themselves or a marketing firm is doing the pitch: All you have to do is write some blog posts and you’ll see results as part of a dedicated SEO campaign designed to grow your business!
Generally there will be a flurry of blog activity over the first two months, after which it dies down to a trickle, and then the blog sits there gathering dust. That’s what always happens because writing quality content is hard work or very expensive. The cost-benefit analysis just isn’t there and very few people have enough time to both run a business and write articles about it at the same time. Some people definitely do, but most don’t and it’s perfectly okay if you don’t. What you should do is be honest with yourself about it.
In short: Ask yourself, am I going to have enough time on a day-to-day basis to maintain my blog in a way that actually tangibly creates results? If not, save yourself the time and energy and devote it to something else because you don’t need a blog. It’s not mandatory, nor is it a necessary. It’s a tool in the toolkit like anything else, and having one doesn’t even guarantee results any more than having an Instagram account or running Google Adwords guarantees results.
This also should not infer that blogs don’t impact SEO at all. They definitely do, but that brings me to a key point that I already alluded to:
Yes, Blogs Do Improve SEO, But Only With a Consistent Yearslong Effort AND If They’re Actually Driving Traffic
Objectively, yes, blogs do improve your search engine standings in the eyes of the almighty Google. I’m not debating that. Except this comes with a mountain of caveats; namely, boosting your search engine prominence with organic results is incredibly hard. In all likelihood you won’t see “results” of more traffic within a month, three months, or even six months. SEO in general is a marathon, not a sprint; that means that if you do see results (there’s no guarantee) it will be years and years of hard work or a lot of money. As I said earlier, the cost-benefit analysis just isn’t there, and there’s a reason for that.
There’s also some good news…
Blogging Is Interchangeable With Other Ways to Drive Traffic to Your Website
There’s a lot of criticism you can make of Google, and I’d probably agree with most of it! Yet on paper the principle is that Google rewards popularity and relevance. In other words if you’re attracting visitors to your website and those visitors are interested in what you’re selling, Google will reward you accordingly.
Thankfully blogging is far from the only way to reach people or send them to your website. There are countless different marketing channels available, whether it’s paid advertising, QR codes, newsletter marketing, Google Places marketing, social media, direct mail, or even just local advertising. These all have their ups or downs but what I’m getting at here is there are plenty of options to reach people. You can even just word-of-mouth that tends to be the bulwark of most small business success in the first place – it’s harder to measure but your customers often do your marketing work for you as long as you do an outstanding job.
The Content Actually Has to be Good
Writing is hard. Not in the sense that being able to write written words is a challenge, but being able to write in a consistent, quality way is much, much harder than people realize, as is finding time, motivation, and inspiration. It’s why I’m convinced that anyone who talks about how “easy” blogging is has never written anything longer than that paper in college at 3 AM when they were hyped up on Red Bull.
Let’s take my earlier example of why most blogs die within a few months: A combination of lack of interest and a lack of results, both of which tend to feed on each other in a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you put in a lot of work on several blog posts but can’t see yourself gaining any prominence for search engine keywords, why would you continue?
The glaring problem is that if you’re writing blog posts out of a sense of obligation rather than it being something you enjoy, the lack of enthusiasm is going to show in the writing. That’s not the sort of writing that attracts any visitors and is very unlikely to be ranked highly by Google in the first place. Writing that lacks any kind of passion or enthusiasm tends to feel rushed, uninteresting, lethargic and made with a begrudging sense of “Fine, I’ll put something up.” Do you expect anyone to enjoy reading that, or even get anything particularly insightful from it? If not, why would Google start indexing it?
In short, it’s a vicious cycle that only really ends when the blog is removed.
No, ChatGPT Isn’t Going to Save You Either
This is to say nothing of the vapid, shallow articles that ChatGPT farts out. Articles generated by ChatGPT are a crude imitation of actual writing, cobbled together by a machine in an uncanny valley attempt to mimic human behavior. It’s not even “AI-writing” in the strict sense – it’s an algorithm patchworking together different articles. You didn’t “co-author” a blog with ChatGPT; the machine did the legwork for you.
In short, if you don’t have the time or interest in writing, ChatGPT isn’t going to be a crutch in a way that reaps the “perks” of extensive blogging.
All of this leads me to the harshest points in this article.
Your Business Is Probably Not That Interesting – And the Blog is Probably Not What People Are Looking For
This is going to sound mean, but it really isn’t. It’s very, very unlikely that anyone who goes to your business website is going to actively seek out your blog page, let alone read multiple articles of several hundred words each. On virtually every small business website the blog is one of the pages with fewest hits on Google Analytics and I can say that from experience. It’s not 2010 anymore and people don’t want to “hear your story” or “engage with your brand.” They want to buy stuff from you, retain your services, schedule an appointment, look up your phone number or hours, or just make sure you’re credible. That’s the actionable aspect of a small business website; not reading a blog.
Even if they were, you’ll have a daunting task standing out among the countless thousands of business website blogs out there. Time is a finite resource for your finite customer base and very few of them are going to have time to subscribe to and read the blogs, newsletters and social media alerts of every local business they patronize. That’s just the reality of writing for even dedicated media websites and it’s much harder when writing isn’t the focus; which it isn’t for a small business website.
There are always exceptions to this, of course. Charitable nonprofits and other mission-driven organizations do amazing jobs documenting their stories. Information-based organizations often write blogs with the purpose of showing up when people run search inquiries. Those are valid use cases! Except they circle back to the same issue as before: It won’t matter if you’re begrudgingly blogging out a sense of obligation. If you don’t want to do it, don’t do it because you don’t have to and you’re not missing out on anything in particular.
That’s because blogging is a tool. It works for the right people who have the right skills in the right organizations, or who have the financial resources to hire someone who has those same skills. It’s not “essential” for any small business any more than newsletters, social media, paid ads, direct mail, or freaking phone book advertising. Find out what works for you to make you money – because you won’t be paying your overhead with blog impressions.