June 2006

A couple of small steps last week to note regarding RSS feeds and getting a more common and compatible system across more of the main blogging platforms.

Firstly, Blogger.com finally added support for RSS to their system in addition to the Atom feeds that they had been using. While not riveting news perhaps, it does give people using Blogger a better choice of how they want to syndicate their content which is certainly for the best (although Im sure theres no need to repeat here my views on whether Businesses should be using Blogger!).

In any case, you will ideally still put your feed through Feedburner for all the good reasons that I outlined in Feedburner: using your feeds more effectively.

Talking of Feeedburner, the other news was that they have been working with Six Apart on the TypePad system and they are now able to offer better integration between the two systems. This means that anyone using TypePad can also benefit from all the subscriber information and promotional elements that Feedburner offers.

So what does this all mean? Well, its really just another step in the integration of all of the services across the main blogging platforms which should ultimately be of benefit to bothe publishers and readers of Blogs alike, because they will be able to use the same familiar tools no matter what blogging software is being used. Having worked for may years in the mobile computing industry where this was the exception rather than the norm, I for one am glad to see it happening.

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This is the first of a four part series which will look at the important subject of promoting and marketing a Business Blog. The other three parts of the series will individually focus on the blog specific promotion, general online promotion and finally offline promotion.

There are a number of different ways in which you should be looking to promote and market your Business Blog to encourage the sort of traffic that you are looking to achieve. Like a normal website, if you believe that you can simply build your site and people will immediately swarm to it in their thousands, then you are going to be sadly disappointed.

I have divided the methods into 3 areas covering:

    1. Marketing and promotion techniques which are specific to blogs;
    2. General online promotional techniques;
    3. Offline marketing

These can be shown as below:

While the methods have been divided into three sections, they should be considered and implemented as a single set of activities. An integrated approach combining all of the elements will provide the best results and so should be considered as such.

1. Blog Specific marketing and promotion methods

At the heart of a good blog will be good and focused content which will in itself attract visitors to your blog as people recommend your blog to others and also attract people who will want to link to your site.

In addition to this content, you should be looking t at the following elements to promote your Blog.

    a) RSS Feeds
    RSS feeds are an excellent and easy method to help readers to find you and your content so use them wherever you can.

    b) RSS Feed Directories
    There are a growing number of directories where you can submit your RSS feed and where the content from the RSS can be searched on topic area and the content of individual posts.

    c) Blog Directories
    There are an increasing number of directories which are dedicated to blogs and which can offer a good way to get your blog referenced and linked to.

    d) Blog Search Engines
    There are some main Blog Search Engines which are important to be indexed in luckily, this can be done rather more simply than is the case with the mainstream Search Engines by pinging the relevant web servers.

    e) Pinging
    Pinging, in terms of blogs, is where you send a short automatic notification to the blog servers to tell them that you have posted new information to index. Simple just remember to post and ping!

    f) Blog Tags
    These are tags or phrases which are added by its author to indicate the main content focus – for blogs, the most commonly used are tags for Technorati.

    g) Post Comments on other Blogs
    You should not only be reading other blogs but also commenting on them. Its a way of getting your name out into the blogosphere as well as encouraging people back to your own blog.

    h) Trackbacks
    When referencing other blogs, then you should always link to the original source and wherever possible, you should also include a trackback as well.

2. General Online Methods

I have previously described blogs as websites with special characteristics which set them apart and make them so very useful. Nevertheless, this does mean that they can therefore be promoted in the same way as a normal website using the online methods available to us.

    a) Search Engines
    Search Engines are an excellent source of traffic so give your Blog the best chance to be found by making sure that it employs Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) and is referenced where possible.

    b) Generic Directories
    Submit your blog to the main web directories and any other relevant general web directories.

    c) Search Advertising
    Search Advertising, or Pay Per Click advertising, is just as applicable to Business Blogs as it is to websites for bringing additional qualified traffic to your blog.

    d) Write Articles
    Posting articles to online article sites is a good way to both raise your profile and create additional inbound links to your Blog.

    e) Online Forums
    Participate in online forums which are relevant to your business both content and the signature will add additional traffic.

    f) Email Signatures
    Not strictly online as such, but you should always make sure that the signature that you have on your email contains your Blog address.

3. Offline Marketing

Offline marketing techniques are equally effective for promoting your blog. You should therefore consider integrating the emarketing methods outlined above with the traditional offline methods that you already employ to market your company website.

    a) Personal and Company Stationery
    Make sure that your Business Blog address appears on your personal and company stationery such as business cards, letter heads and compliments slips.

    b) Business brochures and collateral
    Likewise in your brochures, flyers and leaflets, you should take the opportunity to give the recipients a direct link to further information on the subject.

    c) Presentations and Seminars
    You will normally have a section regarding you and / or your company so include here the address of your blog and the type of content that they will find there.

    d) Conferences and Exhibitions
    On your stand, on the flyers that you distribute and in any presentations that you give, you will have the chance to focus peoples attention on your blog.

    e) Direct Mailings
    A blog is often an excellent place to direct people for passionate views on the product or for a centralised information source for a conference you are running, for example.

    f) Press Release
    You could also issue a Press Release outlining the fact that you have decided to create and develop a Blog and giving the reasons behind it and the benefits that your customers can expect to gain from it.

    g) Word of Mouth
    Dont forget the age old method of simply telling people about it!

It is the integration of the methods that are mentioned above which will bring the best results rather than individual elements in isolation. So concentrate on focusing on those which are most appropriate to your main target audience and the continue adding the others to build up the traffic over time.

The next part in the series will look in more depth at the Blog based promotion methods.

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Well Seth Godin, in no doubt a planned move on his part, stirred up a bit of a storm over the weekend as he expressed his view regarding comments on his blog, and more specifically why he doesnt allow them.

In all honesty, much as I enjoy reading his work, Seths opinion on this has very little relevance to me. While it gave the impression to some that he couldnt be bothered to answer the comments people leave or that he didnt want to be influenced in his writing by pandering to the people likely to comment on his articles, his situation is hardly that of most bloggers. Most of us could only dream of provoking that sort of reaction and the attention that accompanies it.

So lets turn to the question of whether his thoughts on comments apply to the majority of bloggers working hard on their Business Blogs, week in week out.

The answer is clearly no.

One of the key characteristics of a Blog is the ability for people to comment on what you have posted some have even gone so far as to say that it is not really a blog without them! Having this ability opens up channels of communications and in many cases can help forge the start of a business relationship. For some blogs, the comments (and what they can lead to) are in fact the main reason they are written in the first place.

Your main decision should not be whether to allow them or not, but rather how to elicit comments and how to handle the ones you receive. Whether you moderate them or allow your visitors to comment freely (having filtered them with your spam filter of course Akismet is great for this), you should consider the fact that people feel inclined to comment to be a compliment to your post and look to encourage it.

You should also make sure that you respond to comments left – in most cases, you are looking to engage with the people who leave comments, so if they respond and ask a question then make sure that you reply to it. Of course, there will be cases where the comments will not be favourable this is to be expected. You cannot please all the people all of the time. You should still try to respond to their points and present your point of view – its best not to ignore this type of comment and in any case you are there to convince people of your point of view. You will also often gain greater respect by handling objections with grace and tact by doing it this way.

So, comments, and the interaction they bring, are a key element of what make a Business Blog so effective, so if you were ever considering not allowing comments then you need to rethink. And quickly.

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The launch of Ask.coms own blog search engine last week has prompted me to look at what both Asks new offering brings to the blogosphere and also what Sphere offers, a search engine which I had not looked at previously here.

There are already a number of players in the Blog Search Engine space, from specialist blog engines such as Technorati and IceRocket and blog search offerings from the main players in the general Search Engine market such as Google Blog Search. As such, the marketplace is already looking quite competitive as everyone looks for which features to offer and how to go about differentiating themselves.

So let’s have a brief look at what both Ask and Sphere are offering us in terms of search and functionality:

They call it their Blogs and Feeds search engine and they have teamed up with Bloglines to provide the information within it, there are three main tabs which return results for a general search, an RSS Feed search and a News Search.

On the general search, you can search according to relevance, date or popularity, with the displayed results giving you the post title together with the author, name of the blog and a short description. It offers 4 options in terms of what you can do with the displayed results: you can preview the blog without leaving the search page by using their binocular feature; you can subscribe to the RSS feed and a drop down menu gives a choice of readers; you can also save the result to visit later which is a nice touch; and you can share the results by posting to del.icio.us, bloglines, digg etc.

There is also a fully functioning advanced search option which allows you to search according to a number of different criteria such as title, author, description etc and by specific time frames. As Ask.com has created this is conjunction with Bloglines, so the RSS feeds are ranked according to Bloglines subscription data not entirely fair but it is difficult to rank RSS Feeds so I guess it has to be done somehow.

Sphere runs their own Search Engine and the initial interface reminds me of a mixture of Google and Technorati, which I guess is where some of the inspiration will have come from.

Probably the main stand out feature for the search is that there is a deal of flexibility open to you in terms of the time scales being searched, although this is only available once you have your initial search results which defaults to the last day guess that shows just how much information is now posted on blogs! You can choose to look at the last week, 4 months or choose a customised range of your choice with a natty little graphic to do it with. On top of this you can choose to organise the results by relevance or time.

They give a profile of the author of the Blog which contains average number of posts per week, links per post, last 3 links in and last three links out. The additional information link takes you to a page which recreates much of the same information together with the last three posts made. You can also subscribe to an RSS Feed of your results.

As for the results between the two difficult to tell. Speed was good on both and I was more familiar with the results on Sphere to be honest but the functionality and hence flexibility on Ask seemed to have the edge.

So, over to you – try them out and let me know what you think.

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It seems to me that, while most businesses could benefit from using a Business Blog as part of their marketing and business development activities, there are some types of companies which would find them particularly beneficial.

Companies which need to present a human face to their activities: some professional services organisations have been known to suffer from a bland image. Using a blog, you can break down some of these preconceptions and reveal some of the personalities carrying out the work which will help to engender greater trust in what is a customer focused environment.

Companies which rely on their specialist knowledge to attract clients: consistently demonstrating expertise in a chosen field can quickly help to build a positive reputation and encourage potential clients to gravitate towards you. Client case studies go part of the way, but displaying both your general and specialised knowledge over a period of time in a Business blog helps more than a sanitised case study can ever do. Think of it as multiple case studies on steroids if you like. This is particularly relevant for independent consultants and specialist consultancies.

Companies which have progressed beyond the hard sell approach: direct advertising and the hard sell has become less and less successful as an approach. However, an educational marketing approach, where you provide potential clients with information on which to make their own informed decision on their purchase, has gone from strength to strength.

Companies wanting to become more of a partner than a supplier: as you engage potential clients through your Business Blog, you develop trust and a relationship which can position you as a partner rather than a simple supplier. People prefer to work with and buy from people and companies that they trust and a blog will help to achieve this.

Companies wishing to be THE information resource for their market niche: most of the information that your prospective clients are looking for is available on the web, it is just a case of finding it. So rather than let potential clients find it on a competitors site, provide it yourself or provide links to it on your Blog. You will become the preferred place to go for this type of information and so attract anyone interested in your niche to your blog. This is turn provides you with the ideal opportunity to open a dialogue with them.

Companies organising conferences, seminars and exhibitions: blogs are the ideal focal point for collating and distributing information to attendees pre-Conference and for gathering feedback from them during and after the Event. You can update the conference details and add new information yourself, and you automatically develop a powerful online Search Engine marketing tool as well.

Companies looking to develop a network or community around themselves: as a networking tool, a business blog can help in many different ways but one of its most powerful is when it allows the creation of a network of like minded people interested in a particular area. It is particularly positive for the company setting this up and running it because they find themselves at the centre of this network and therefore in a high profile position.

Companies developing new products or services: customer feedback and input is essential in the product development process. By taking the step to allow this feedback to take place on a Blog, you are allowing discussions and generating ideas which can be invaluable to the process. Added to this, you have a group of people who have contributed to the product and so are likely to be its strongest evangelists and advocates.

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Easton Ellsworth over at Business Blogwire was kind enough to include a mention for Better Business Blogging and myself in his BlogTipping Day yesterday which makes me a Blogtippee!!

Easton gave three compliments which included one about the free eCourse that I run many thanks for that and glad that you are finding it useful! and then followed it up with a tip for something that could be improved on the blog. Blogtipping, you see!

This made an impact on me for two reasons:

    1. the tip was a useful one: the inclusion of a listing of good business or corporate blogs alongside my Blogroll (or Required Reading as I call it) makes perfect sense and was information that has been asked for by people I deal with. I had intended to include relevant corporate blogs under the Business Uses categories, but it would be ideal to highlight them in the sidebar as well.

    2. the fact that Easton had done this at all. It was unexpected; he had been reading the blog and been taking the course, but then he had taken the time to post comments and advice. In the business world, this is not something you often see, but between Bloggers who write in the same area, there seems to be a feeling of cooperation more than overt competition which is excellent to see and experience.

On the back of this, here are two pieces of advice: make sure that you consider carefully what you have in your sidebar – it’s a highly visible place in your Blog, so highlight the elements that contribute to the aims of your Blog. And secondly, if you can, take the effort to do unexpected things by offering help and advice in this way in a Blogging environment, you can feel confident that the offer will be reciprocated in the future.

Thanks again, Easton.

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