May 2006

Writing a series of posts on a topic which is important to your overall subject area is a great way to generate additional areas of interest in your Business Blog – it can also be an excellent way to get you started as you begin to post on your blog and are looking for ideas and themes.

In fact, creating a series in your Blog can help in a number of different ways, such as:

  • it will help to develop a very definite area of focus within your Blog and create key topic areas which will support the overall primary theme of the blog;

  • it will give you a number of posts to write on a single topic which will help to get you started and gain some momentum in your writing;

  • it will encourage you not to make your blog posts too long because you will have to segment a topic into a number of shorter posts;

  • as people pick up on your blog, they will be able to trace back previous articles easily and then be more likely to revisit for updates;

  • you will be able to promote a series more easily than individual posts later on, hopefully when you have built up the number of visitors to your blog;

  • as they are likely to be themed within a topic, then they will also be nicely attractive to Search Engines (especially so as you will of course group them in a category) and will add additional internal links.

Try to avoid making the series too long or too spread out, although you can of course come back to it and develop it further later on. Particularly, if your readers ask for additional information, then this gives you the opportunity to develop the initial series further. It may even give you ideas on how to develop the series in other directions.

However, try to plan out the series out in advance (at least the titles) and then write them as you need them. Alternatively, if this inspires you as a topic then write two or three posts at once and, using the edit time feature, set them to appear at intervals in the future.

In my own case, I selected SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) for Blogs as a subject. For me, it warranted a series because of the amount of information that the area contains and yet is perfectly suited to being divided into smaller self contained articles. If I am honest, there has been too much of a gap between posts within the series but I think its a worthwhile set its a series entitled SEO in Blogs if you want to have a look.

Try it it really works.

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There are two sites that I always walk people through whenever I start to work with them on their Blogs: Technorati and Feedburner. Why? Because I believe that Technorati is the start point for anyone looking to find out more about what is out in the Blogosphere and because Feedburner provides some excellent easy to use tools that all bloggers can benefit from, right from the start.

Feedburner offers a number of paid services which you can progress on to as the need arises, but their free services are well worth taking the time to examine and incorporate in your Blog. There are ones which I particularly recommend because I feel that they help in utilising and developing your Blog’s RSS Feed in important ways.

The elements I would highlight are:

Subscriber information: by channeling your RSS Feed subscriptions through Feedburner, you can gain additional information about those subscribing. Specifically, it allows you to identify the number of people that are actively subscribed to your feed, as well as providing information on the type of reader they are using and the articles that have been visited directly from the feed itself.

User friendly RSS feed: there are some small touches you can make to enhance the experience for people receiving your feed such as including your logo, which in itself reinforces the branding aspect, and changing the description of the feed. Although these are changes you can make yourself directly to the feed with a little technical knowledge, this makes it simple for everyone to apply.

Feed Reader Chicklets: the code and images required to create the small RSS feed logos relating to each of the main RSS Readers are provided. While not strictly necessary, any method such as this which increases the visibility of your feed on your Blog can only be beneficial to your promotional activities.

RSS Feed via email: for those people who dont use RSS readers but still want to know when you have updated your blog, there is the option of an email subscription service. Feedburner provides you with the code to create a basic sign up form on your blog and then visitors can use to subscribe to receiving your blog updates automatically via email. A similar service is provided by Feedblitz.

Headline Animator: this is a small image using an animated gif file, which automatically displays the titles of the last 5 posts from your Blog and allows people to click through a sign up for the feed. It appears in the form of a box (2 formats available) which can be used either in emails or perhaps in online forums etc.

PingShot: this is an ideal companion to the concept of Post and Ping, where PingShot notifies a number of servers at once that you have published new content on your Blog . No real difference from the other services available at Pingomatic and Pingoat (indeed it works through Pingomatic) but a good extra service.

How do you do this? Well, just head along to the Feedburner site, sign up for an account and then “burn” a Feed using your current feed, follow the instructions and away you go! There are some useful services there and with RSS destined to become more widespread as the year progresses, set up in the best way you can in readiness.

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Lots of people write a blog for pleasure – it’s undoubtedly the most common type out there. For them, a blog is a way to let off steam, communicate their thoughts on things, write about what they’re feeling, chat about a hobby they’re interested in etc.

That’s great but that’s not the sort of blog we’re dealing with here.

What we are concerned with a business and marketing tool which has a focus, a target audience and a purpose it also has costs attached to it, in terms of time if nothing else, which need to be justified. Because of this, we need to measure how successful it has been and, to do this, we need to decide what criteria we should be using to determine this.

Ideally the criteria will reflect the main objectives that we set out for the blog but there may still be different ways to evaluate these. For example,

  • you might consider that it is the number of new or repeat visitors to your blog because it displays the attractiveness of the blog in terms of content;

  • it could be the number of comments that you receive on your posts because you are looking to achieve a certain level of interaction;

  • the number of subscribers to your RSS feed may be important because you feel this best shows active interest from your readers;

  • the number of blogs and websites which link to your blog or refer to your articles via trackbacks because the interest levels of other bloggers is important from a viral marketing perspective ;

  • the number of sign ups to a newsletter which you have as your main marketing call to action on the blog;

  • the number of new potential customers who get in contact through the contact form on your Blog because you are looking for new client introductions.

There are a number of different methods we can use and so it is a case of deciding which is the most appropriate in terms of our stated aims for the Blog.

However, lets not kid ourselves totally. At the end of the day, although a Business Blog is not a direct sales tool, its end goal is to generate additional revenue whether that comes as a direct or indirect result of our efforts. So in addition to the criteria listed above, we need to try to identify as many of the new clients that the blog has generated as possible – it will help us to verify our focus is correct and, if nothing else, give the Finance Team a figure to plug into their ROI calculations. Bless them!

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Each page within your Business Blog has its own URL or address and the Search Engines take notice of the words contained within the URL as they determine its relative value when ranking pages for a search term.

As we have already seen, the URL of posts and categories in a blog is called its Permalink and as such is very important. The default permalink in many blogging systems will simply give the number of the post such as:

or the number of the category. However, you have the ability to change this to reflect the title of your post and other elements which would give a much more descriptive URL. For example, changing the structure of the URL to include year, category and the name of the post would automatically generate a URL such as:

Which you select is ultimately your decision, but the second is preferable both from a visitor and a Search Engine perspective.

Most of the elements that make up this descriptive URL are created automatically from parts of the blog that you have already put in place. The main elements that you have control over in this respect are:

  • the domain name of your blog

  • the name of the various categories you have created

  • the name of the individual post itself

To make sure that the URL gives as much support as possible to your SEO efforts, whenever possible you should aim to get your primary keyword and at least one of your secondary keywords in the URL. In most instances, this will happen naturally as your categories are likely to be descriptive and relate to the posts that they contain, and the titles of the posts themselves will do the same.

The ideal set up for the whole URL for the post given as an example above breaks down as follows:

SEO for Blogs: keyword rich URL

Therefore, each element adds weight as you go along. The Domain Name will have been selected right at the start and then you will also have decided what categories you wish to use to hold your posts. Finally the title of your individual post will generate the final element of the page URL.

One important element to remember is to choose carefully when you decide to set up the automatic permalink format. If you change this format in the future then the permalinks of all the past posts will be changed as well. This means that if people click on pages which have been indexed in the Search Engines, they will be directed to the old address and arrive at a page which no longer exists.

So, plan ahead and select the best format right from the start and stick with it.

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Ive had a number of people send me trend comparisons over the past week as Google has released yet another beta product in Google Trends, which maps the number of searches made on keywords since the start of 2004. With the ability to compare up to 5 terms of a single chart, it can provide an interesting, if high level and (by Googles own admission) approximated, view of the search level and hence the interest in certain terms.

One which did catch my eye was posted by Rachel Cunliffe at Cre8d in her post Google Trendswhere she mapped the different journeys of some of leading blogging platform software. The result was very interesting with a continued rise in WordPress against some of the other major players the results can be seen here.

Having had my interest piqued, I repeated the exercise with a different selection of blogging software including Blogger, Mambo and Joomla. It should be said that there is a possible discrepancy in the results as both blogger and mambo are terms which could be searched on outside of the context of blogging platforms. Nonetheless, the results are:

Conclusions purely in terms of platform, there seems to be a convergence in terms of which platforms are being searched for most often with a recent drop in mambo but a continued rise across the others. The best news to take from this is that the interest in Blogging is clearly increasing at a very healthy rate, though the levels of course fluctuate wildly between regions.

The last word here, relating to Google Trends rather than Blogging Platforms, has to go to Steve Rubel who came up with some interesting trend comparisons as ever Google bigger than God, hey?

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Always remember to put up a profile up on your Business Blog and let people know who they are dealing with.

All Blogs, and not just personal blogs, are essentially personal in outlook and not just another website full of product information and advertising speak. Thats why they work so well in communicating ideas and opinions, and in gaining positive reactions.

A Business Blog also needs to be interactive and people like to know who they are interacting with so let them!

If you prefer to include your details as part of your sidebar then keep it short and sweet theres lots more information that you also want to be highly visible there. I personally prefer a link through to a separate page where you have a little more space to include whatever details seem appropriate to you.

Some profiles will focus on past work and experience ( no CVS though, please), others will have more of a current focus and outline future plans. What ever you put there, try to make it personal though and, for extra impact, put up a picture as well. Remember that from a networking perspective, your Business Blog acts as the hub at the centre of that network – people are therefore going to be interested in the “real you” and what makes you tick so give them some insights into the person behind the Blog.

You also want people to be able to contact you. They can do this by posting comments on your blog, but thats not ideal in all circumstances. So, make sure that you also have your contact details on your blog, either as part of your profile or in a separate section or both! I still find loads of Blogs which seem very interesting but give me no easy way to get in touch with the author. You are shooting yourself in the foot if your contact details arent easily visible.

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Steve Rubel highlighted last week a perfect example of the speed that news can be spread by the use of blogging in his article Gmail down, Bloggers know before Press, as it became clear that word of gmail being down spread around the blogosphere before being reported by traditional online press.

If we take this a step further and think when the offline press would have been able to report the news then once again we see at first hand the step differences in the response times of these different types of reporting media.

So just imagine for a second that it was a story about your own company rather than gmail – isn’t it becoming ever clearer that it is critical that you use the tools at your disposal to monitor what is being said about you in the blogosphere and so be able to respond as quickly as possible?

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Whether or not you are not actively participating in what is happening in the online environment which includes blogs, you should at the very least be aware of the conversations that are taking place and be listening to them. These conversations may be about your industry or the marketplace in which you operate, or more critically, they may directly impact your company or your brand.

Whichever it is, you need to have a clear and up to date view of what is being said which then gives you the opportunity to participate in that conversation should you wish to. You may wish to monitor conversations from a PR point of view and so be able to actively respond to issues raised, or it might simply be for a type of “online press cuttings” to evaluate the feeling towards your company and brand in real time.

There are a number of companies which have come to the market with offerings which allow you to monitor what is being said. Some, such as Market Sentinel offer a comprehensive range of services which are ideal for companies and/or brands getting hundreds or thousands of daily mentions. However, for those of us with more modest brands (and budgets) then there are some excellent tools on the internet which can help us in our monitoring and our research.

  • Technorati
    Technorati currently probably retains the general Bloggers vote for where to go for information on the blogosphere and with 38 million blogs monitored as of May, it can claim to have the most comprehensive list. You can sift information using Technoratis tags, your watchlists will deliver ongoing specific searches and you can keep your favourite blogs or bloggers tracked too.

  • PubSub
    PubSub is a predominantly a matching service which notifies you when new content is created that matches your requirements. It allows you to create an enquiry and then watches out for any new information that matches it it will then notify you when a match is made but updating your own personal feed. Really quick way of keeping up to date on an hour by hour basis.

  • BlogPulse
    BlogPulse is an automated system which allows you to identify and analyse trends across blogs. Effectively, it is a blog search engine which doesnt just give a snap shot at a moment in time but allows you to analyse and report on a particular topic over time. Special features include:
    Conversation Tracker: allows you to follow a discussion that starts with an individual blog post and then spreads across multiple blogs
    Blog Pulse Profiles: helps identify and analyse the activity and influence of some of the main profile blogs
    Trend Charts: to compare trends for 3 topics and see what is being written about.

  • Bloglines
    Bloglines is probably best known as the largest online RSS Reader and as such is an ideal place to start tracking what is happening in an industry. What is allows you to do is effectively create your own news page by searching out, subscribing to and sharing news feeds from blogs and other websites.

All of these, and the others which already exists, are of course just tools to allow you to keep an eye open as to what is being said in real time. How you react to the information you gather is the next stage but by tapping into blogs you can at least be aware of what is going on.

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Blog Consultant questions: Ask the Blog CoachBusiness Blogging Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Q – You recommend that you should have full control over a Business Blog and therefore that a hosted service like Blogger be ideal. Why is that and how can I move mine from Blogger to WordPress?

A – Yes, you are right. Just to clarify, I have nothing against Blogger for personal Blogs – in fact, it has done an enormous amount to open up this opportunity to more people than ever before.

However, I maintain that a business needs to have control over something as important as its own Blog which it has invested time and effort in planning, developing and promoting. In addition, there have been instances reported where blogs on Blogger have been mistaken for spam blogs (so called splogs) and deleted. For this reason, you have to work with a blogging solution where you have total control your own information and access.

You will also find that a system such as WordPress offers some incredible opportunities in terms of Search Engine Optimisation and information gathering which will help you to achieve better Search Engine rankings and higher level of visitors and subscribers. At the same time, it offers much greater potential for future development with the plug-ins that are available and so “Future proofs” your investment.

To turn to the second part of your question: the process can be relatively painless depending on the complexity of what you want to do. The latest release of WordPress (version 2.0) has a transfer program built in so if you are setting up a new WordPress blog then most of the work is done for you. You can find the process in the “Options” section of the WordPress interface and it will guide you through the process. Its as simple as that!

There are two other elements which you should consider: if you want to retain the type of look and feel that you had with Blogger then you will need to customise the WordPress template but here as well you would have a great deal more flexibility than before. The second element is ensuring that information indexed previously by the Search Engines still leads to the correct articles. If you had Blogger appearing at your domain then this should be possible by recreating the same permalink structure.

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