When it comes to building a loyal customer base, your expertise often is your most precious commodity. But showcasing your unique knowledge online takes more than a couple of paragraphs on a static Web page.

Enter the blog.

“There’s a lot of competition out there,” says Denise Wakeman, co-founder of The Blog Squad, a Los Angeles-based marketing firm that offers tips and tools to build businesses online.

“One of the ways you can stand out is by publishing valuable, useful, relevant content that solves the problems of your ideal customer,” she adds.

While a blog (short for Web log) can function similarly to a personal diary, many businesses use blogs to demonstrate their expertise in a specific field. In fact, a Universal McCann report published last year showed that 77 percent of all Internet users read blogs.

While maintaining a quality blog does require a time commitment, today’s blog applications take the technical guesswork out of the equation.

“You can publish content on the Web in a template that looks good without having to be a Web designer,” Wakeman says. “It’s as easy as writing an e-mail.”

For pool and spa companies, a blog can complement a traditional, brochure-like Website. While static Websites are still vital to doing business, their purpose usually is to provide a list of services and contact information that is rarely updated.

“There’s no interaction or dialogue,” Wakeman says. “There’s no way for your customer to really get a sense of who you are and why you’re better than the other guy. Having a blog allows you to have that conversation.”

When creating a blog for your business, consider the following:

  • Go professional.
  • When choosing your blogging application, Wakeman recommends platforms geared toward professionals, such as WordPress.com or TypePad.com, over sites such as LiveJournal.com or Blogger.com, which cater to more personal blogs. “Anyone can set up a blog,” she says. “But you also want to set it up correctly so that it is optimized for your business and doesn’t look like the kids’ down the street.”

  • Make time to blog.
  • Plan to update your blog two to three times per week, and schedule blogging time on your weekly calendar. “A lot of people will say, ‘Well, I don’t have time to write on a blog,’ ” Wakeman says. “And I have to reframe that for them and say, ‘Well, do you have time to market your business?’ Because if somebody’s not focused on marketing their business every single day — it could be 30 minutes a day — then it’s going to be very difficult for them to sustain their business.”

  • Create an editorial calendar.
  • Once you decide which days you plan to update your blog, develop a content publishing plan. For example, you may want to choose a different theme for each day. “On Mondays, let’s say you do a how-to post,” Wakeman says. “So you take a product that you sell, and you write about how to use it. On Wednesday, it’s going to be about industry news, etc.” This way, you always know what type of content to write up on a given day.

  • Build relationships with readers.
  • Choose informative topics that will help educate readers rather than focusing on the hard sell. “It’s not about just pushing out your sales message,” Wakeman says. “It’s about building relationships with your readers; it’s an incremental growth strategy.”

  • Write what you know.
  • You may be surprised by how much material you can use from everyday customer interactions. Take note of frequently asked questions and even rare requests, and consider writing up the answers for your next post. “Every time a customer comes into a store with a problem, that’s blog fodder because there are so many more people out there with the same issue,” Wakeman says. To protect your customers’ privacy, don’t refer to them by name. Instead, phrases such as, “While talking with a customer today about pool cleaners” should be enough to get the ball rolling.

  • Focus on education.
  • Writing about the specific products you offer can be extremely helpful to customers who read your blog — and it can build your credibility with potential buyers. In your discussion, be sure to include information about how the product works, its components, how often to use it and any other relevant details.

  • Comment on industry news.
  • Read trade journals, industry newsletters and even other blogs to keep up with changes in the pool and spa field. Then write up a blog post responding to these topical issues. “You can give your opinion about what’s going on,” Wakeman says. “You can bring these items to your customers’ attention.”

  • Allow comments.
  • Go with the most open comment setting, even if this means that not all comments will be positive. “Sometimes negative feedback is good feedback to get,” Wakeman says. “It allows you to state your position, engage with the person and build a relationship. If you have commenting turned off or moderated, that’s setting up barriers from people participating with you.”

    But don’t get discouraged if your posts aren’t getting many comments. “Only about 1 percent of blog readers actually comment,” Wakeman says. “So even though you may not be getting comments, that doesn’t mean people aren’t reading and visiting the blog.” Most blogging platforms offer tracking tools that give a more accurate picture of how many people are visiting your blog.

  • Promote your blog.
  • Once your blog is up and running, include the link on every marketing piece you have, such as postcards, newsletters, and even business cards and letterheads. Link to your blog from your Website and vice versa. “Whatever your customer’s preferred way of getting information, you should let them know that you’ve got a blog now,” Wakeman says.

  • Leverage search engines.
  • One of the great advantages of blogs is that they are rife with strategically placed keywords. “Search engines love them,” Wakeman says. For optimal results, post often and regularly, write keyword-rich posts, and place keywords in prominent areas, such as title bars.

Most importantly, keep posting relevant content that will attract new readers. “If somebody’s using a search engine to search for ‘how to clean my pool’ or ‘what’s the best chemical for cleaning a pool,’ you’re going to attract those new people if you are writing about those issues,” Wakeman says. “It can provide an amazing amount of visibility for the business.”