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  • Warren: Blogging and Social Media definitely go hand in hand. Having a successful social presence can do a lot for a...
  • Jennifer Rai: All points mentioned above are very well put together. Blogs having purpose and a focus on certain...
  • jessica@lukeroxas: I ran a small home based business, and lately I’ve decided to put up my own website,...
  • Rob: Rather weird that a blog on blogging hasn’t been updated since 2009!
  • Ayala Land: Perhaps I was one of those companies who, as you put it “think they can avoid it” but thanks to well...

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    Social Media - coming ready or notI have been doing a number of talks / presentations recently to business groups and networking groups entitled “Social Media – coming ready or not!” and I just wanted to apologise publicly for this.

    I’m really very sorry!

    It’s not that I feel that they weren’t full of good information or that they weren’t well received or even that they only scraped that surface of the subject at hand – although the latter is certainly true (but hopefully not the others!).

    No, I wanted to apologise because I fear that the title is misleading. I worry that it gives the impression that social media, with blogging sitting at its centre, is something which has still to fully arrive and that we can watch its approach with a type of detached intellectual curiosity. I feel that perhaps people might think that if we all collectively close our eyes, then it might disappear and be replaced with something more friendly to the business marketing status quo.

    Or perhaps, in the tried and tested disaster movie formula, we feel confident that the “social media asteroid” hurtling on a collision course with Earth will somehow be diverted from its course and we will all be saved … probably by Bruce Willis, if cinematic history is anything to go by.

    This is all untrue. Social media is here … now.

    It is already profoundly affecting what we do and how we interact. From a business perspective, it is impacting how we find, evaluate, promote, recommend and share information, products and services, as well as how we rate the companies and individuals which supply them. And of course, conversely it is changing the ways in which companies need to listen to us, their customers, and engage with us if they wish to succeed.

    There are still companies which seem to believe that they can ignore or avoid it – well, they can certainly elect not to actively participate but that doesn’t mean that they won’t be involved. If people are talking about them then they are involved, albeit implicitely. Their reluctance to actively join the conversation simply means that they have no say in the discussion and so no control over what is being said or its future direction.

    So, I say to those companies and individuals defiantly sitting there like King Canute hoping to stem the tide, don’t fight it but rather embrace it. At the very least, make sure that you have the tools in place to listen to what is being said, but ideally also make sure that you have the tools and knowledge to participate and, preferably, initiate conversations. It will certainly be beneficial and you never know, you might even enjoy it!

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    There have been a number of comments over recent weeks (and indeed months) about the imminent death of blogging, to be generally replaced it seems with newer tools such as Twitter and lifestreaming.

    For a small minority, it’s possible that this may well be on the cards – however, for the vast majority, and particularly those using these tools for primarily business purposes, I would say that this prediction is premature in the extreme.

    Indeed, with the growing presence of social media as a marketing and comms tool in its own right, are we going to be seeing a decline in the role of blogging as one part of that? My answer is a resounding no and I’ll explain why.

    Blogs will play a central role

    It is true that there are major changes afoot – the industry is currently developing quickly ahead of an undoubted period of consolidation. As a result, I am constantly looking at the variety of social media which now exist, of which a business blog is certainly one. In the future, while the number of potential avenues for social media continues to expand, I still see a blog playing the central role for companies wanting to engage with customers and prospects using social media and general online methods.

    For instance, if we take some of the more popular social media tools as examples:

    • Microblogging in the current guise of Twitter is great but a little restrictive – it’s difficult to save evrything in 140 characters, so is often used to make people aware of other sources of information or to initiate connections;

    • Social networks are proliferating in many different forms from the monsters such as Facebook to the niche forums on systems like Ning – they come and go (some quicker than others obviously) but each time a new one takes hold you need to establish a whole new infrastructure and set of contacts;

    • Podcasts and video have their own key sites like YouTube or iTunes but in most cases, businesses fail to achieve an independent identity or forum with them alone, although cases such as “Will it Blend?” from Blendtech prove that it is possible.

    A blog, however, allows a business to bring all of these other elements together, creates a focal point for a community of customers, provides the company with its own social network hub whatever else goes on in the market and allows it to expand on the information disseminated on Twitter, YouTube or iTunes.

    Business BLog as your online home

    A personal analogy

    To put it another way, if I make a personal analogy, if I meet friends in a bar or a coffee shop, then they will get a certain picture of me through a number of different factors: what I am wearing, what I look like, where we are meeting, what I’m drinking, who I am talking to and about what etc. All of these things give a certain picture of me as a person but it is still a superficial one.

    However, if you come and have dinner at my home then you have a much more complete view of me. You see where I live, the type of house, the décor, the books and music I’m interested in, the decoration and style of fixtures and furniture, what I cook and what I serve for drinks etc etc. In short, you get a much more complete sense of me when you visit my home because it is much more multifaceted.

    To my mind, social networking sites, discussion forums, Twitter etc are all types of coffee houses where you can a first image of me. My blog, however, offers much more of an insight and is essentially the online equivalent of my home.

    You need a place to invite people to online

    Don’t take this as putting down the other social media tools or indeed other general online marketing tactics – it is just the opposite. All the other elements are great when used in line with a business’ commercial aims, but you still then need to have somewhere to “invite” friends back to online rather than always meet in proverbial bars / coffee houses. That’s where a blog comes to the fore, bringing all the other elements together as well as contributing in its own right.

    Think also that as you engage with other bloggers on their own blogs, there is only so much that you can convey when you leave comments, no matter how erudite and pertinent they are. What you need to have in conjunction is a place to develop your ideas further. A place to continue that conversation that you have started – once again, a role that your own blog would ideally fulfil.

    Effectively, as you look at the world of social media and the innumerable opportunities that it brings with it, to me it is clear that a blog sits solidly at the core of this activity. Personally, I see it as driving and conducting the online activity that a company undertakes and as the place to develop a community of readers that links from other social media will help grow and promote.

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    Building a successful blogYou want to have a blog which benefits your business – yes?

    You want a blog which people are going to want to come back to time and time again – yes?

    Essentially, you want a blog which is going to be successful – yes again?

    Well, to give you the best chance of a successful business blog, then you’re going to need to make sure that you tick all the boxes to ensure that all of the underlying elements are in place to make that happen. It’s not difficult but it is important.

    For me, there are 5 elements which are like building blocks that make a blog what it is, 5 layers if you like that constitute the makeup of a blog and so 5 key aspects that you need to keep in mind as you plan and develop your blog.

    1. Philosophy
    Underpinning everything else are the general philosophy needed for blogging – you’ve got to be comfortable with the basic ideals of what people expect from blogs or else you’re going to fall at the first hurdle. The key one is that of openness – if you, or your company, are not willing to be open and honest in dealing with the readers of your blog then the likelihood is it will not achieve the goals you have for it. Be transparent and honest, and you’re off on the right foot.

    2. Technology
    You need to build the blog on the right technology base so that it supports what you want to do with it. It has to be one that will help your blog achieve the requirements that you have for it, both now and in the future. Making sure that it can grow with your ongoing needs is key to effectively future proof all the work and effort that you’ll be putting in. There are a number of excellent blogging platforms available – my own preference being for the full self hosted WordPress – but just ensure that you pick one that will be able to grow with you.

    3. Business
    Getting the business elements right means that you are treating the blog as the business and marketing tool that it is rather than as a piece of technology divorced from the company’s aims and requirements. Getting the business part right means that you’ve planned your objectives and aims for the blog, know how you intend to promote it (including with social media tools in place) and have answered the 3 key questions in the planning phase which are:

    • i) What do you want the blog to be used for

    • ii) Who is your target audience and what do you want to attract to your blog

    • iii) What you want to achieve with it and how to measure that?

    4. Layout and Graphics
    The so called “look and feel” layer focuses on how the blog will be laid out and takes into account not only the graphical elements and branding but also how the layout and structure can reflect the goals of the blog and the company. In addition, the layout should support the business goals by ensuring that the key “real estate” areas are used as effectively as possible and navigation remain intuitive and compelling giving a “stickiness” to the blog.

    5. Content
    Finally the content is ultimately where your ongoing focus needs to be, with all of the other elements essentially being there in place to support and market what you write about. This is of course the key part which needs to have our ongoing focus since all of the other elements will ideally be planned and implemented in the planning and preparation phases.

    While the content element does rightly get the lion’s share of our attention and much of the online advice on setting up and writing blogs, the content will only work to its full potential in a blog built with a foundation of the other elements outlined above. They are what ensures that the content is correctly focused, distributed, read and shared – essentially delivering you a successful blog in the process.

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    While there’s always been lots of debate as to what criteria Search Engines use to rank web pages in their search results, what there is little debate about is that appearing high up on the Search Engines Results page has become of key importance to most businesses. Why? Simply because currently, Search Engines are the preferred research tools in today’s marketplace.

    As a result, Search Engine Optimisation (aka SEO) has developed into a thriving (if often maligned) industry as organisations, both large and small, strive to gain higher positions and greater visibility in the Search Engine results pages (SERPs).

    The other thing that has become increasingly apparent is that blogs (and business blogs in particular) have a number of attributes which help them rank highly in the Search Engines, making them an important or even, dare I say, a key part of Search Engine Marketing. To understand why, first let’s have a quick reminder of how Search Engines work.

    Search Engines: a few basics

    The main Search Engines – I’m thinking here primarily of Google, Yahoo and Live – collect information from websites using electronic programs called “robots” or “spiders”. They find new sites and content generally by following links and then reading and indexing the code which creates the individual pages (and hence the text they contain). This is all stored on their servers so that when a search is submitted, the Search Engine sifts through all the relevant pages in its index and then ranks them in terms of relevancy using a mathematical algorithm. The result of all this is what we see on the Search Engine results page.

    They determine this relevancy using over 100 different criteria, if we are to believe the experts in this field, though some criteria are obviously considered more “valuable” than others. Those considered particularly important include the text itself, the inbound and internal links, focus and relevancy of the information and some key onpage elements such as the Title tag. It is also worth reminding ourselves that search engines rank individual pages rather than whole websites when they create their results pages.

    So how can we apply this to blogs?

    Armed with an overview of what Search Engines are looking for to rank pages highly, it’s clear that blogs do in fact fulfil a number of these criteria perfectly, which goes a long way to explain why they rank so well. Specifically:

    • Text: Business Blogs tend to be focused in their content and that is ideal for what Search Engines look for when they are searching for pages which fit with specific search criteria;

    • External Inbound Links: the overriding philosophy in the blogosphere is to reference other blogs by linking to relevant sources; so blogs offering good (and often specific) content are likely to attract a greater number of links;

    • Internal Links: blogs are automatically structured in such a way that the internal linking is excellent with highly relevant anchor text (the words that actually form the link) which is an extra bonus;

    • Up to date information: the most successful blogs are generally ones which are regularly updated and hence offer a growing resource of recent and relevant content;

    • Onpage elements: good blogging software has excellent flexibility which gives you the opportunity to have specific onpage elements (such as the Title Tag) for each individual page.

    Blog Search Engines, Pinging and Instant Indexing

    Although blogs appear in the main Search Engines like any other online site, they also have their own set of Search Engines which focus primarily on blogs. This is important because the way that these Blog Search Engines find new content is different to the main Search Engines.

    If blogs are set up correctly, they will automatically “ping” these search engines – this is the digital equivalent to a ‘tap on the shoulder’ telling them that there is new content for them to index. This happens instantly and, with one of these Blog Search Engines belonging to Google, this means that Google’s main index can pick up your post almost immediately – my best is 6 minutes.

    Of course, if the blog is part of your main website then there is also the greater chance of the rest of your site being indexed more frequently too, let alone all the pages benefiting from the value of the inbound links coming into the blog, linking to your new articles! Ah, is there no end to the benefits!! ;)

    Conclusion: keep developing your Business Blog

    If, like me, you already use a blog for your business, then these Search Engine benefits will not be anything new – no doubt you will have already have seen the sort of great results that you can achieve. If you haven’t, then we really need to talk! :) However, they are particularly impressive when you consider that you are probably writing your blog with your readers uppermost in your mind and these benefits are merely a welcome (albeit very beneficial) side effect.

    Business blogs however are not a magic solution and nor should they be used in isolation – they are at their best when used in conjunction with other marketing activities, both online and offline. Equally, they are not trying to manipulate Search Engines – an accusation sometimes levelled at SEO companies. Simply put, well written and focused blogs give Search Engines exactly what they want to provide for their users – good, specific and up to date information on the subject matter that they are searching for.

    And providing that is of course where both the challenge and the benefits lie!

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    Successful Corporate BlogsI’m currently writing a series called “The Diary of a Business Blog” (you can find part 2 here) which looks at an imaginary business owner going through the process of setting up and developing a blog for his business. One of the questions that the first couple of posts has elicited from BBB readers (thanks, by the way!) is “what makes a successful blog?” and I guess that this is probably a key question for any organisation looking to create their own business or corporate blog.

    My answer: a successful business blog is one which fulfils the purpose and achieves the results that it was created for.

    Now that may sound like a bit of a cop out on my part and I suppose that, in one way, it is. However, there is a good reason why.

    There’s more than ONE type of blog

    The issue is that there are so many different types of business blog, it’s simply not possible to give a single definitive definition of what success would look like or indeed a blueprint for creating one.

    To give a couple of examples: if we look at a CEO Blog (such as Jonathan Schwartz at Sun or Richard Edelman’s 6am blog) then the writing style, format and content are going to be very different from one designed as a product blog. So too will be its aims. Likewise a corporate blog which brings together a community of users and developers for market research or product development, will have a very different definition of “successful” from an “expert blog” written by a consultant or legal professional looking to directly improve his/her profile and reputation.

    However, what they will have in common is likely to be a clear set of objectives, albeit all different, which they are focused on achieving. These objectives would have been identified as part of the planning process and should always be in the back of your mind (or written on a postit in front of you!) when writing and promoting your business blog. [Aside: I’ll be looking at some possible objectives and metrics to measure them in a post next week.]

    Some pointers for your Business Blog

    However, having ducked the question once, I’ll try to make amends now. If I had to make some suggestions to organisations starting a blog that would help to achieve the goals that they have set for it, then I would recommend the following:
    • Don’t try to be everything to everyone: the best type of business blog will often be very targeted in nature. It will have identified the people that it wants to appeal to and should be written in such a way that it attracts, retains and develops that audience;

    • Plan, focus and stay true to your goals: you planned your objectives when you started, so try not to be distracted from them. If those are what you want to achieve, then make certain that you concentrate on them and don’t get pulled off in different directions;

    • Write interesting, compelling, focused content: you know the audience you wish to attract and hopefully you also know what will interest them. So try to present them with that information in a way which is authentic and which communicates the passion that you have for the subject;

    • Make it visually appealing: that doesn’t just mean images, although they certainly play a major role, but also break the text up with sub headings, use a header which supports and shows off your brand and ensure that above all it is easy on the eye. Don’t distract your readers from your content or make it difficult to take in;

    • Launch it properly: Plan the launch and make sure that you use all of the means at your disposal to tell people about it. Get your Foundation posts in place, use your mailing list, pre-announce it if applicable, create online press releases to support it and ensure that you put some weight behind the activities. If you believe it’s worth reading (and let’s hope you do!) then tell people and enthuse about it;

    • Vary the style of posts: while the content should be targetted, there are different ways in which you can present it from “expert pieces” to lists and from news stories to links to other key sources. Make sure that you break it up and present the information in different ways – it’ll help get across the points you are looking to communicate. [Some ideas on blog posts here might be of use];

    • Market it religiously: there is no point in having a blog and just letting it sit there – tell people about it. Use all the methods available both online and offline, generic and blog specific and then use all of them again! While your writing will hopefully attract readers over time, you should still “spread the word” at every opportunity.

    Ultimately, the person best placed to judge whether the blog you are running has been a success is … you! However, don’t make it hard for yourself – know what you want to achieve with it and then going all out to make it happen.

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    Blog sidebars: adaptable in any situationAs we put together new posts for our business blog, our main focus, time and effort is centred on what appears in the middle of the screen, the place where we write and display the content for our readers. It’s the key area and it’s right that the effort we put in reflects this.

    Use your sidebars to your advantage

    Nevertheless, there is more to a successful business blog than just the writing. We have specific goals for it and we need to both maintain and direct our readers’ interest to what those business goals are. The blog posts will do a lot of this work but there is also a lot that can be achieved by careful use of both the sidebars and the header of a blog. Some of this will be to highlight our own services/products, others will help readers find other posts or pages in the blog and others will highlight certain aspects that we want to encourage them to look at.

    They play key roles in achieving our blog’s aims and the sidebars are “prime real estate” on the blog which we need to use effectively. We may find that a single sidebar works best for us, however, wider screen sizes that are now the norm give us the opportunity to include two sidebars without compromising the area displaying our main content. More area to work with! However, what we put in them and the order they appear are important considerations which combine good blog design and achieving our business goals.

    Many options – here are just some!

    There are lots of different options that could be used (and space is after all limited) but here are some ideas which you might like to consider as you develop your blog:
    • Contact Details: could be on a separate page linked to from the sidebar but should be prominent. It’s no good someone liking your work and then not being able to contact you!

    • Author Profile: blogs are personal so it’s important to let your readers gain an insight of the blogger whose posts and articles they are reading. Give them an overview of who you are and what you do, then let your writing fill in the gaps;

    • Purpose of blog: it’s often a good idea to give readers a snapshot of why you are writing the blog and what you want to achieve with it – it can help to give context to the posts and encourage them to read further and pass it on;

    • Promotion of future events: if you are running seminars, courses or presentations, then this would be a great place to make your readers aware of them and promote them to them;

    • Promotion of products and/or services: in the same way as you might promote your events, then you can also make them aware by linking through to your products or services and introducing them (in an appropriate fashion!);

    • Social Networking profiles: with the proliferation of social media sites and networking groups such as Linkedin, Twitter, del.icio.us etc. links to your own profiles on each of these platforms helps promote your presence on them;

    • Photo of the author: taking the idea of blogs being personal one step further. Let them see what you look like! Make it relevant to the tone of your blog, though.

    • Most commented posts: one possible way of demonstrating what has created most interest with your readers and inspired most comments;

    • Last 5 posts: let people have easy access to your latest posts. This is particularly good on the individual post pages rather than the main blog page where, of course, the most recent posts are generally visible;

    • Recent comments: whether you show the last 5 or last 10, let people see who is commenting and on which posts. Additionally, it can act as a small “thank you” to those who have taken the time to leave comments as well as inspire others to do so;

    • Recommended sites: a list of sites that you are recommending to your readers as being well worth visiting. Adds value and helps make your blog a central resource of information;

    • RSS Subscription (RSS reader and email): you’ll want to encourage readers to sign up to receive your regular blog updates, so make it clearly visible and make sure that they can do so via email too! Not everyone loves RSS (unfortunately).

    • Newsletter Signup box: you should be running a newsletter in conjunction with your blog (there’s great complementary value) so explain what it offers and then get the signup box clearly visible;

    • Categories: one of the key structural elements and a principal tool in navigating your blog is through the categories, generally divided along main topic lines. Make them visible and keep them to 10 or 12 [unlike me :( ];

    • Monthly archives: again a key structural element of a blog though probably less used by readers now;

    • Search: the search box should be a standard feature on every blog so make sure it’s easily accessible and that it will look through both posts and pages;

    • Tags / Tag Cloud: a way to demonstrate the areas that the blog focuses on and a second navigation method to supplement the categories;

    • Testimonials: either testimonials or even customer logos can be a good way to link through to case studies or project overviews as well as showing the range of clients you work with;

    • RSS Feeds from other sites: bring in relevant industry news from other sites can be a good way to add specific information to your blog – and of course it’s all automatic;

    • Polls / Surveys: conduct your own poll on a topic relevant to your blog. Helps increase the interactive element and should provide you with some useful information as well;

    • Favourite books: recommended books which will interest your target audience, perhaps linked through to Amazon with or without affiliate code in the links;

    • Adverts: if you are looking to monetise your blog then adverts will feature prominently … but remember the distraction value;

    • Industry News: perhaps using the RSS feeds as suggested previously or using other inputs.

    As you can see, there are wide variety of elements that you can place in the sidebar or sidebars of your blog and this is probably only scraping the surface. What you place there and the order you show them will depend very much on the goals that you have for your blog, though, so choose wisely.

    What do you have on yours? Let us know below!

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    Business Blog DiaryPrevious Instalment: Part 1 – the decision

    At the end of the day, the decision had essentially been taken out of his hands. Daniel could see that his competitors were already benefiting from the type of industry exposure and customer contact that he had envisaged getting for his own company. And this was coming from their blogs.

    However, this was NOT about keeping up with the Joneses – that would be pointless. To make it work for his business, he knew that he had to have a clear idea of what he wanted to do with the blog and what results he wanted it to achieve for him. He also needed to be clear about the people he was looking to attract to his blog – if he knew that then he could focus on writing articles that they’d want to come and read, and pass on others. This sharing of content was going to be key.

    This was the business marketing side and he felt comfortable with it – after all, it was what he knew and was passionate about. However, he also needed to know how to really use blogs and get the best out of them. How could he engage with his readers, how to set up a blog, what software to use, how to get it into Google? So many questions and much of which he felt he knew little about.

    He had to start somewhere. So he decided to check out what similar companies were doing online and how they were using blogs to promote their businesses. His searches on Technorati and Google’s blog search gave a lot of good starting points – he then followed the links they referred to and added the best ones to his RSS feed so that he would receive their news automatically. He could see RSS was going to be a real timesaver and made a mental note to make sure his blog would offer it too.

    He also used Google to search on “Business Blogging” and that provided some excellent reference sources – the more information he had, the better equipped he would be to get the best results out of the effort he’d be putting into the blog.

    Based on the advice there, he decided that the blog should appear as part of his current website as that would help promote all his other pages as well and that he would integrate it properly. It would give visitors to his site the ability to leave comments and ask questions directly – a great plus in developing closer relationships with them. It would also distribute and promote his information automatically for him, giving his company greater visibility.

    Having looked at the alternatives, he decided that a blog system called WordPress would probably offer the best solution – lots of future development potential and tried and tested on many thousands of blogs. In this instance, going with the crowd did seem to be the best option. He’d need to load it on his own server but it looked straightforward and, during his research, he’d also seen there were people around who could give help if he needed it.

    He felt that his readers would appreciate a constant flow of articles but would probably feel overwhelmed if he tried to send information every day. He planned to post 2 to 3 times a week and worked from that standpoint. He also felt that the he had a handle on the sort of information they wanted – a mixture of industry information, links, informed opinion and an insight into what made him and his company tick. He also wrote out a big “Don’t try to sell!” post-it note to remind himself that the blog was not a direct sales tool. That he knew would just be a turn off to his readers.

    Feeling much more comfortable about the organisation of the blog, it was now time to put that into action, get it set up and work out what elements would be important to make sure it had a successful launch.

    Next Instalment: Part 3 – the launch

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    Wordpress plugins for Business BlogsRecently, I’ve seen a spate of posts about WordPress plugins and focused on a variety of different areas, particularly after the release of WordPress 2.7. These plugins are important pieces of software which add specific functionality to the self hosted WordPress platform. They are also one of the key reasons that WordPress, for me, continues to offer greatest opportunities for bloggers and their businesses going forward.

    Do these opportunities come from the fact that it’s good to have the latest flashy, whizzy things (technical term) on your blog? No, simply that if you have software which automatically promotes, distributes and encourages people to read your posts then, as a consequence, that allows you to settle down to the real key task of blogging – writing content that people want to read.

    What makes a good Plugin?

    I get asked quite frequently which are the best WordPress plugins to use and, for me, it’s a question that I find impossible to give a simple answer to. The trouble I have is that selecting the “best” WordPress plugins is not only totally subjective but is also approaching the issue from the wrong direction.

    Plugins are designed to offer additional functionality to the blog. Rather than focusing on the plugins, I believe that it should be a case of looking at the business goals of the blog and then identifying which plugins best achieve and support these.

    In addition, since my aim is to make sure that the companies I work which are as self sufficient as possible, so it’s good to ensure that the plugins are not only robust but also likely to be updated to ensure compatibility with future software releases. This saves having to potentially change the plugins should an upgrade to WordPress make them redundant.

    Plugins offering general business functionality

    Having said that, there are certain features that I feel are particularly useful for the majority of business blogs because of their generic value and utility, and so I have decided to focus in one those here. With that in mind, what I have done is outline the plugins that best support those features and which hopefully follow their development.

    Are these the only ones I recommend? No, not at all. There are very many excellent plugins lovingly created and distributed by their developers which I use but are not mentioned here because I consider them specific to particular needs and purposes. However, these put down a good framework which will help support your content and your blogging:

    1. Facilitating content sharing

    • WP-Email: gives you “email a friend” opportunities to include with your posts and hence a easy way for readers to share or recommend your content

    • Social bookmarking: There are a number of options covering the social bookmarking sites rom SEM Bookmark to Social Bookmarks. There is also a plugin available for the increasingly popular Share This service. Alternatively, there are plugins which focus in on one of the larger communities such as Digg and offer greater functionality dedicated to that platform

    • WP Print: don’t forget that many still share content in printed format (not to mention for our own consumption) and this helps ensure that the article is printed cleanly and in full

    2. Search Engine optimisation

    • All in One SEO: gives the ability and flexibility to add a custom title tag and meta tags to each post or page. It also lets you set a better automated structure for these tags across the blog and exclude indexing on certain areas. Nice functionality – to help you with SEO, not optimise it for you! [See also Title Tag SEO]

    • Meta Robots: For full control, you might also like to include a Robot.txt function allowing page level control of what is indexed and not. Useful to control the flow of Page Rank value

    • Simple Tags: allows a great deal of control and automation of tags and their use – very useful in conjunction with the categories and posts.

    3. Onsite Functions

    • Dagon Design Formmailer: it’s important to have a minimum of a contact page on your blog and this allows you to include a contact form too – highly flexible for other purposes, signups etc.

    • Related Posts: an important addition to help readers to navigate your blog and for you to introduce other relevant information you have written to them

    • Search Everything: while the standard search function focuses on the content of the posts, you’d now want to include tags and various other useful elements. This plugin allows you to achieve that.

    • Page Numbers: allowing your readers to quickly navigate around your blog helps their experience of it and allows them to browse your content as they wish. This allows them to delve more easily into your archives.

    4. Back Office

    • Database Backup: backing up your database is a key element of your blog admin. With this plugin, you can do it automatically and there’s no need to even know what PHPMyAdmin stands for, let alone how to use it.

    • Google Analytics: this is about plugins so here is a good one to help include Google Analytics – however, you could also add the code to your footer. What is key for your blog is that you do track your visitors.

    • Akismet Spam Control: comment spam is an ineviatble result of a successful blog. CAPTCHA methods are good but my preferred version puts no onus on the commenters and that is Akismet as a Spam control method.

    5. Comments

    • Subscribe to Comments: comments are the lifeblood of a blog based community. Being informed of new replies is important and this plugin does just that. It gets people returning to your blog too.

    • Get Related Comments: bit of a reward to those who have commented and also a way to encourage others to do so and to read your blog. Very versatile!

    Are these the only plugins that I use on blogs? Absolutely not! On the contrary, there are a vast number of excellent ones which I use to achieve certain business requirements – the ones mentioned here are just those that I believe all business blogs can benefit from? I would love to hear which others you would include in yours!

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    Business Blog DiaryDaniel was visibly excited – Monday was the day that he had pencilled in for the launch of a blog that he hoped would be the mainstay on his online presence, designed to help develop his business.

    While Monday was the day when the wheels were starting to turn in earnest, it had been some 4 weeks since Daniel had first decided that his business really needed a blog. He’d been noticing a drop off in prospect calls over the previous weeks (perhaps a factor of the credit crunch and the current economic situation) and had begun to feel that he didn’t have as much contact with his customers as he would have liked.

    What was certain was that he was determined that his would not be one of those businesses that didn’t make it through – that much he was very clear about.

    He’d also noticed that blogs were cropping up in lots of different places. Sure he’d seen that the BBC and The Guardian had lots of blogs and he particularly liked reading the comments that other people left on the articles. “You get a sense of what people really think rather than relying one person’s opinion”, he had explained to friends. “It’s more like taking part in a conversation than listening to a speech.” And he preferred that.

    More importantly, he had noticed a couple of his competitors had started blogs and were clearly getting attention because of them. One had even been featured in the main trade magazine which he had been trying to get a mention in! People were also leaving comments on them so clearly they were spending more time on his competitors’ sites than on his own.

    It was this that had swung it for him. He was just as much of an expert as they were, perhaps more so, and yet they were getting all the attention. He needed to make sure that more came his way and so it had been key to find the best way to get that information out in front of his prospective companies. He’d also been reading that it was important for sites to be “sticky” and have ways to encourage people to spend more time on them and he’d been advised a little about optimising his website for Search Engines.

    Lots to do, but a blog seemed to have a key role to play in all of these areas and Daniel was looking forward to see the results it could achieve for him and, more importantly, his business.

    Next Instalment: Part 2 – the preparation

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    Blogs for businessI had the pleasure of having some friends over this weekend – it was great to see them, as it seems so long since we hosted at home following the arrival of our first born aka “he who shall be obeyed”! :)

    After dinner, I was chatting with one of my friends and we touched on something that I wanted to share with you because it’s just so relevant to what we are doing.

    He kindly asked how my “blogging business” was going and I replied that at the moment there seemed to be a growing interest in both social media and blogging which meant that things looked positive for the coming year. He was very pleased for me but he went on to tell me that the while he knew of my interest in blogging, he had never actually read a blog himself. “Bollocks,” I thought. I said that I’d be surprised if he hadn’t, as I knew he was someone who liked to keep up to date with the news in general and the financial news in particular.

    So I asked him if he read the Business section of the BBC news website. “Everyday”, he replied. “I particularly like Peston’s Picks – it’s the best bit of the whole site.” (That’s written by the BBC’s Business editor, Robert Peston).

    “Yep, one of my favourites too”, I replied. “What do you like about it?”

    “Well, he always seems to have written it that day so it’s got the latest news – exactly what I’m looking for – and you know that he’s got the inside track on the stories because of his reputation from the TV. I also like that fact you can also leave your own opinion at the end of the article and, to honest, some of those are really interesting too.”

    Well, if those all sound to you like key characteristics of a blog then you’d be spot on and indeed Peston’s Picks is one of the most read blogs on the BBC site, particularly in the current economic climate, for exactly the reason my friend cited. But the fact is that although there are references to it being a blog, it just comes across as the place on the site where you can read what Robert writes. The fact that the technology he uses happens to be called a blog is frankly immaterial – it’s just the name we currently give to it.

    So, in fact my friend is an avid reader of a blog (and no doubt others) without even knowing it. Perhaps he’s also exactly the sort of person that we should be seeking out and listening to as we start blogs for our own businesses. Rather than focusing on creating a widely read “blog”, I believe that he reminds us that instead we should be looking to write widely read articles or to engage in conversations or create connections with people we want to associate with. The fact that we do so through something called a blog happens to be because it’s the perfect tool for the job.

    So when we plan our blogs, let’s put ourselves in the place of my friend and look at what matters to him – that’s all about content, authenticity, discussion and relevance. And it’s very little about the technology that we choose to use to supply him with those things.

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