Anyone can learn how to start a blog, and that’s why the Internet is cluttered with abandoned websites. Business owners hear amazing success stories about using blogs to build an audience. They start out ambitious, eager to promote ideas and ramp up sales.

And then, nothing happens.

Globally, bloggers write an estimated 2 million posts per day, according to daily blogging statistics from Worldometers and Technorati. Imagine how many of these posts go unread, leaving bloggers discouraged and ready to give up. The truth is blogs are an engagement tool, not a fast track to sales. You have to keep giving readers something of value, or they won’t stick around.

Creating relevant, timely content takes a lot of effort, but the long-term payoff is worth it. In a blogging benchmark survey, Hubspot reported that businesses with 15 or more posts per month get five times more traffic than companies that don’t blog. B2B companies that post one to two times a month get 70 percent more leads than businesses that don’t blog.

If you don’t want to end up writing for an audience of one, treat your blog like a second business. The more you study your market, the more you can create value for readers. Read on and learn how to start a successful blog that brings customers to your virtual doorstep.

1. Find out what questions your clients are asking

A good small business blog starts with asking the right questions. Clients come to you because they have a need or a problem. A blog helps you build credibility with readers, so they think of your business when they’re ready to buy. Your job is to make that buying decision easier by giving away expert information for free. Sounds easy, right?

The challenge lies in getting to know your customers and how they think. Talk to customers about problems they face and the gaps in common product solutions. What factors motivate them to seek help? To make purchases? To spend more or less? What creative ideas would they enjoy implementing at home or work? Use surveys to ask customers what topics matter to them, and you’ll never run out of things to talk about.

2. Target long-tail keywords

All online content depends on search traffic to get views. Use everything you know about your ideal customers to figure out what keywords they search for. The Google Adwords Keyword Planner is a useful research tool.

Don’t make the mistake of loading your business blog with short, popular keywords. Every other business in your niche is targeting the same words, making it hard for your site to rank higher. Instead, focus on long-tail keywords to bring in highly interested customers.

Long-tail keywords are ultra-specific phrases with three or more words. “Bakery” is a broad keyword that could attract people looking for a wide range of pastries. “Gluten-free bakery in Boulder Colorado” tells customers exactly what the business sells. More importantly, fewer competitors would use the same keyword.

3. Create an editorial calendar

Write regularly and stay on top of important trends with an editorial calendar. A calendar helps you plan content in advance, instead of scrambling for topics at the last minute. Build a schedule around your major shopping seasons, seasonal products or business events you attend.

Let’s say prom season is the busiest period for your sewing and alterations business. Writing about related topics in the weeks leading up to prom season can drive business to your site. Increasing your posts during slower periods also lets you write less often when business speeds up.

4. Write compelling headlines

It doesn’t matter if you’re Hemingway writing a masterpiece for the web. No one will ever read your blog if they don’t click on your headlines. Once again, customer questions and keywords should be the basis for your titles. Take this article for example. Chances are, you heard about the benefits of a small business blog and want to get yours off to a good start. You typed a question in the search engine, which led you to this blog post.

A great headline offers the promise of something exciting or useful. At the same time, include words that play upon common emotions. For example, a “quick and easy guide” appeals to busy professionals. “Crazy facts you didn’t know” suggests readers will miss out if they don’t click.

5. Write in-depth blog posts

Search engines are partial to longer posts written in natural language, as they’re less likely to be spam. With that in mind, create detailed posts that give readers actionable information to solve a problem. When you write authentic, comprehensive posts, other sites link to your content and bring more traffic.

And don’t try to tackle everything in one article. Divide big ideas into subtopics. That way you can stretch your research and show off your credibility. Weave relatable stories into your posts whenever possible, whether it’s triumphs or mistakes. Readers are drawn to real experiences, and they appreciate bloggers who teach them something valuable.

6. Format posts for easy reading

You won’t connect with your audience by talking over their heads. Write in a simple, friendly voice that’s easy for your readers to understand. Internet readers often quickly scan articles for relevant information. Keep paragraphs short, and break up sections with subheadings, bullets, and images.

7. Promote posts on social media

Blogging is about raising your visibility, so embrace opportunities to interact with followers. Respond to comments, and refer readers to other relevant posts when they have questions.

Set up profiles on major social media sites, especially LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter. As a business network, LinkedIn is a great place to repost a blog article. If your buyers aren’t businesses, consider sharing content on Facebook instead. On Twitter, you should follow businesses with a similar audience that aren’t direct competitors. Get in the habit of liking and sharing their content. As you build familiarity, recommend specific posts that might be helpful to their audiences.

You can also repurpose blog content for social media sites, but make sure it fits the platform. For example, you can turn a long blog post into an infographic for Instagram or Pinterest. Then, turn the same list of tips into a short animated video for YouTube or Vimeo.

8. Build a subscriber list

If you have no clue who’s actually reading your business blog, you miss out on great leads. One thing many bloggers regret is not starting an email list right away. When you set up your blog, include a pop-up or subscription box to prompt readers to sign up. With a subscriber list, you can email readers about new posts, ask for topic ideas, or promote products.

Once you learn how to start a successful blog, be consistent with your posts. Sites that are regularly updated land higher search engine rankings. More importantly, a strong blog shows you’re serious about helping your readers. Your reputation as an expert increases as more people share your content. Use that boost in traffic to identify prospects who are interested in what you have to offer.

Looking for ways to build an online presence? Start with a custom website for your business.