Countless blogs populate the Internet. Most of them aren’t worth readers’ time and are quickly passed over, if they’re ever seen at all. But the blogs that rise to the top -- the kind of small-business blogs that can help HVAC contractors grow their businesses over the long term -- share some common qualities.

Four essential elements of high-quality business blogs:

1. Information that is new to and useful for homeowners in your community.

A blog allows you as an HVAC contractor to give an invaluable gift to your customers and customers-to-be: the benefit of your expertise in the field. As a local source of insider knowledge about heating and cooling topics, you can be a real asset to homeowners in your community.

Stock your blog with posts that reflect that expertise. That doesn’t mean writing highly technical articles clogged with HVAC industry jargon. It does mean using your blog to tell readers something they didn’t already know, offering the context and perspective that only a local industry leader can provide. An example: Ground-source heat pumps are gaining popularity in some parts of the country. Use your blog to explain, in general terms, how they work – and to discuss the conditions in which they may or may not be appropriate in your geographic area.

To choose topics that are useful to homeowners, consider customers’ main concerns: maintaining a consistently comfortable home for a reasonable price, reducing energy use and keeping their families safe. Consider the questions that you find yourself often answering in your store, or that your technicians face most often in the field. Use your blog to answer those questions for a larger audience.

When you do so, your readers gain information that makes their lives easier, helping them make decisions that improve their home comfort and save them money. As for you, as an HVAC contractor: You’re on your way to establishing a relationship with a homeowner who’s in the market for HVAC equipment or service.

2. A reason to care.

Each post should not only provide information, but also relate its relevance to the lives of homeowners in your service area. That might mean referencing a financial bottom line (write a post titled “These Energy-Saving Tips Will Cut Your Energy Bills”), or it might mean explaining that a carbon monoxide detector can mean the difference between life and death.

Or it might be illustrating the positive or negative effects HVAC equipment can have on the environment. An example: The inner workings of photovoltaic panels may be endlessly fascinating to HVAC contractors. What’s important to relate to customers, however, is that solar panels can harness the sun’s energy to heat their water. This means fewer carbon emissions are released, meaning a homeowner can significantly reduce their negative impact on the environment.

3. SEO tools that work for you.

Search-engine optimization, or SEO, refers to an evolving set of tools that help local homeowners find your blog. It’s a big Internet out there -- by using good SEO practices, you can help ensure that your blog posts will appear among your customers’ top search results when they take their HVAC questions to Google.

A few key SEO practices:

• Include links to other pages, such as relevant pages on your own website, your previous blog posts and reputable outside sources of HVAC information. Search engines rank pages that contain links higher than those that don’t.

• Weave geographic references into your posts to help local homeowners find your company online. References to your geographic location should read organically. In a post about high-efficiency air conditioners, include a reference to a heat wave in your service area. Note a recent outage-causing storm in a post about household generators.

• Use smart keywords. Keywords are terms that tell search engines the topic of your post. They should reflect the terms a customer would use when searching online for information. Say a homeowner in your community is looking to cut their household’s energy use during the cooling season. They might enter “energy savings” and “air conditioning” into their search engine. A post addressing that topic should include those terms as well, in order to be found. Again, keywords should be woven naturally into your prose. If they appear too often, search engines will dismiss your posts as spam and drop them from the top search results.

4. A call to action.

Each blog post should encourage readers to take the next step toward building their relationship with you – and make it simple for them to do so. Whether it’s a “click here” and a link to a your online quote-request form or a “contact us” and a link to a page containing your phone numbers, physical and email addresses and a Google map illustrating your location, good calls to action help turn readers into real prospects.

Joe Pulizzi is CEO for SocialTract, the leading blogging/social media service for HVACR Contractors. Joe’s new book, Managing Content Marketing, is now available on Amazon and Kindle. Joe can be reached on Twitter @juntajoe or by email joe@socialtract.com.