When I visit a small business website, I often check out the blog to get a sense for the personality and focus of the organization. And if that blog hasn’t been updated in 3 months, I immediately make a decision about the brand: I see it as stale, uncommitted, a bit behind the times. And that impression is hard to change.

So where does that leave me, according to the time elapsed since my last post? You guessed it: in the stale/indifferent/dated category. I can tell you that I’m as sharp as a Ticonderoga, as dedicated as a retriever, as cutting edge as a TED conference. But it’s what I do that speaks loudly, and the impression I’ve already left isn’t easy to shake.

When life got in the way of my blog these past few months, I thought about backdating a pile of posts so that at the very least, future visitors wouldn’t see this lull and question my reliability. But then I thought, no, this illustration is just too bad to pass up.

So, with myself as the shinning example of what not to do, let’s take a look at the question I hear from clients all the time: How often should I post to my blog?

Now here’s the hitch: I answer this question as a strategic marketer speaking to small businesses—particularly those who are launching a new blog. If I were focused on professional blogging or SEO, I would respond very differently; and if you’re focused on these things, there are lots of answers out there for you.

But today, we’re going to look at designing a blog schedule that supports the goals of your brand, and there’s no right or wrong prescription for every business. Instead, here are 3 principles that should help you design the right program for your company:

1. Run a marathon, not a sprint

Many new bloggers make the mistake of starting with an unsustainable schedule. They’ve read articles encouraging at least 3 posts per week, they have a lot of ideas, and they’re excited.

If this is you, great: use that fire to fuel a big backlog. But don’t commit to an intense schedule just yet—especially if you’ve never blogged before.

Instead, track your hours as you fill that file folder with future posts. (If you have multiple contributors lined up, ask all of them to do the same.)

At the same time, set up a blog-writing schedule for yourself and try to maintain it. Stick with it for, say, a month. And then look back at your stats, both

  • How long (on average) it takes you to finalize a new post
  • How well you’ve been able to maintain your schedule

Use this data to determine a realistic blog-publishing frequency. At this point, you can be aggressive in your estimate: in our last step, we’ll rein it in a bit.

2. Let audience determine frequency

Next, it’s time to consider what’s best for your audience.

SEO gurus often urge bloggers to post quite often—in many cases pushing for multiple posts each week. But such rules tend to target professional bloggers or those focused on improving SEO. So don’t let the gurus stress you out: if you’re using a blog to market your business, take a close look at your unique goals and audience before deciding which “rules” to follow.

How so? Well, let’s say you’re licensed to sell desks to schools in the 78704 zip code, and you already have contact information for the purchaser at every school in that district. Your goal: connect with existing prospects and clients in a meaningful way.

In this case, 2 posts per week might improve your search-engine ranking, connecting you with purchasing directors at more schools around the country. But that won’t help your business.

At the same time, too-frequent posts could actually overwhelm clients and prospects who follow your blog, but a bi-monthly post containing pithy, valuable information would be welcome. So plan your scheduling accordingly.

3. Ready, set, go slow!

Once you’ve balanced what you believe you can do with what think you should do, start posting at a lower frequency than you believe you can sustain. At the same time, continue adding to your backlog at your target rate.

So if your ideal is 2 posts per week and you launch your blog with 10 posts in the hopper, add a new post to your file twice each week, but only publish to your blog every 10 days. Once you’ve maintained your target post schedule for 2 months, pat yourself on the back and speed up your publishing rate to 2 per week.

Another month passes and you’re maintaining your 2-per-week target? You’re ready to publish at your ideal rate—and now you have a killer backlog in case life ever gets in the way.

But not too slow

Keep in mind that if you (like our bad example, aka me) wait months between posts, you’ll look like you fell off the face of the earth. So regardless of audience, if you’re going to bother setting up a blog at all, you need to commit to regular updates.

If you don’t think you can manage roughly 1 post per month, consider postponing launch or hiring a writer to help you generate content at a consistent clip.

2 quick tips for those planning a lighter schedule:

  1. Keep posts as regular as possible: If you’re only chiming in occasionally, it’s especially important to churn out those posts like clockwork. This shows your audience that you’re dedicated to your business and consistently have valuable information to share.
  2. Set expectations: If you’re posting as rarely as once each month, include an intro or sidebar note on your blog that lets visitors know how often you update. This will tell readers what to expect and even help them look forward to your next post—rather than wondering when you’ll reappear.

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