July 2006


Feedburner acquires BlogbeatFeedburner announced today that it has acquired Blogbeat, which is a provider of blog analytics based in Raleigh, Durham.

As a fan of Feedburner and the services that they offer, this is good news that that they are further extending their services and particularly so because they have expressed the intention to include the blog analytics as an extension of the free services package. These are already hugely useful in tracking and customising RSS feeds and so adding in the ability to track visitors as well can only add to this.

As they have also announced that Jeff Turner, Blogbeat founder, will be joining Feedburner as Lead Engineer, Web Analytics, they are clearly expressing their intention to develop this area further – another positive step. For a Business Blog to be truly effective, we need to be able to measure its success according to the goals that we have for it – visitors to the blog and RSS readership are two of the possible criteria by which to do so.

We should also be using stats packages and analytics to get a better idea of which posts and subject areas are proving the biggest attraction for our readers – with this information at our fingertips, we can then make sure that we adapt our writing, provide the type of information that is most in demand and so give our readers what they are looking for.

Feedburner expect to have the Blogbeat services integrated by the 4th quarter of this year and I for one will be looking forward to using them.

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Spotlight on UK Blogs - all postsEach week, I will be highlighting some of the Business Blogs which exist in the UK. The aim is to show a cross section of what people and businesses are writing about and how they are approaching the task of using blogs in their business activities. As a result, you’ll find that these posts will contain a mix of Blogs displaying a range of topics and styles.

In addition to this weekly selection, I am working with others to build a comprehensive list of Business Blogs in the UK. So if there are UK blogs which you have visited and would recommend (including your own!), then please let me know by leaving a comment or sending me a message. Thanks!

Eie Flud
Another business which might not immediately stand out as a prime candidate for blogging but Eie Flud blogs about the countryside and the natural ingredients that go into their toiletries and soaps.

Stuart Oliver
Stuart Oliver talks about Social software, Networks & Communities, Innovation, Globalisation … Phew! Had my head spinning but well informed and well worth a read.

PR Voice
PR Voice is written by Tony Bradley, the President of the CIPR (Chartered Institute of Public Relations) so let’s see what spin he puts on his business blogging activities.

Adam Smith Institute
Interesting mix of opinion on free marketing policies but nicely put together.

Guinness Blog
Nice to see another major brand in the UK blogging arena and this one is coming together slowly and will develop further I have no doubt – I guess, good things come to those who wait. Hey?

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While I might be looking to highlight UK blogs, I could hardly let the moment pass when Dell finally enters the blogosphere which it has done with the launch of their company blog One2One.

Dell has been under attack from a PR point of view for a while now due to its poor service record most publicly, from a blogging point of view, from Jeff Jarvis in his blog Buzzmachine. Whether this has influenced its decision to participate with its own blog is not clear but the best way to be able to start to answer your critics is to participate in the conversation, so from that perspective it is a good move.

Not that Dell has managed to launch it totally unscathed! There have already been a few ‘A’ list bloggers such as Steve Rubel and Jeff Jarvis (unsurprisingly) who have criticised the format and approach. Pity! Others like Robert Scoble and Shel Holtz have taken a more objective view and rightly pointed out that it is good that Dell has taken this step and that they need time to find their feet. That’s more like it!

The format looks as if it will evolve nicely with video clips with different Dell personnel included alongside text posts. Dell will undoubtedly attract a lot of negative comments from customers who have experienced below par service, but they have taken the important first step to open up “Direct Conversations with Dell” as they proclaim in their tagline.

Hopefully, they will live up to this tagline and take a sensible approach in answering these comments and engaging their customers in conversation on the blog. The main thing is that they have now entered that conversation and that is a positive first step. Like any blog, it will evolve over the coming weeks before finding exactly the right level so let’s give them that opportunity and watch with interest.

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Following my post on Why Small Businesses need to consider a Business Blog, I was discussing some of the points raised online and was asked the question, “Who will have the time to read a billion business blogs?”

Fair point – there’s only 24 hours in the day, after all, and we’ve probably got other things that we’d like to fit in besides staring at a computer screen. So, what do we do? We focus in on the information that we are most interested in and the people that we most like to read – and if we are sensible, then we have that delivered to us using something like RSS rather than go off hunting for it every morning.

So, let’s turn that around and look at it from the standpoint of our own Business Blog. Are we trying to get the mass audience of billions of internet users to read what we write? No, clearly not. We have decided on the audience we want to attract to our blog and we make sure that our content fits their requirements and answers their issues. You cannot please everyone all of the time and nor should you try.

If I compare it to the UK newspaper industry, the News of the World has a target readership and so the paper contains stories and features which fits with what these readers are interested in. If they start to publish stock market analysis which sits better in the Financial Times then there would be a mass exodus to one of the other tabloids.

The same is true of the information in Business Blogs. Keep the focus that you identified when setting up your blog and make sure that you write with your readers in mind – this way, you should encourage them to keep returning rather than searching for pastures new on a competitor’s site.

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The use of Business Blogging by small businesses is a topic that has been covered by many but is certainly important enough to be revisited here. I am convinced, given the wide range of potential benefits and the different ways in which a small business can use a Business Blog, that the discussion should not be if a blog is worthwhile but rather where its focus should lie.

A blog can play a central role in the marketing activity of a Small Business but, like all forms of marketing, it needs to be planned, targeted and measured. Consequently, a key phase in creating a successful Small Business blog happens ahead of its launch when you plan out how you want to use your Blog, who your target audience is and what you want to achieve with it. All three of these elements are key to its success.

If we now take a look at some of the potential types of focus that a small business Blog can take, then you will see what a powerful tool it can be.

Demonstrate and communicate your expertise
Most small businesses offer specialist knowledge and skills – it’s what differentiates them – but what they often lack is a way to demonstrate them to potential customers. A Business Blog offers the ability to do this and much more beside. By what you write in your posts and also how you write them, you can show your expertise without overtly selling to your readers this gives you the chance to build up a positive reputation and a degree of trust with potential clients and partners alike.

Build individual networks and foster collaboration
Small businesses may be specialists but they also need a strong support structure and partners around them. Business blogging is not only an ideal way to start to engage with customers, as we have seen, but also to foster partnerships, collaborations and joint ventures with others in your industry. As you attract other players in your marketplace to your blog, opportunities for collaboration and networking will develop naturally through the conversations taking place.

Communicate with a local, national or global audience
While Business Blogs are most often used to communicate with a targeted, but geographically widespread, audience, they can also allow you to focus in on a local customer base, primarily by changing the emphasis of the posts and the structure. This flexibility of approach means that small businesses of all types and with all types of customer base can use blogs to promote their business and develop relationships with their customers.

Developing reputation and trust
We all need to get closer to our customers and a Business Blog is an excellent way to achieve that. It allows us to engage customers and readers of our blog in a way that no other online method can achieve. This in turn gives us the time and the opportunity to develop our reputation in their eyes and foster a high level of trust between ourselves and our customers.

Great Search Engine rankings
With so many people using the internet to research products and services before they buy, small businesses need to achieve a prominent position and high ranking in Search Engine Results for their chosen key phrases. Business Blogs can help immeasurably in this. The structure of a blog combined with the focused nature of the posts, regular updates and the interlinking which is part and parcel of blogs, will all push you towards to the top of the rankings. This makes a Business Blog ideal for small businesses looking for greater visibility and enquiries.

Dominate a Niche Market
Small businesses usually have a set of services or products which are designed to answer the needs of a specific, and often, niche market. Getting exposure in that market is key to being able to dominate it and ensure that your business is the one that the market itself recommends. Using a Business Blog, you can raise your profile and lead the discussions on any aspect affecting that market. Talk about it and get talked about!

Project your personality
As a small business, you will tend to work very closely with your customers. Your expertise is highly important but so are you as a person and how you get on with your customer – a strong relationship will help to ensure that the project develops well. Blogs can let your personality shine through before you enter the relationship and may give you the edge in being selected.

Easy Web Publishing no webmaster required!
While we rightly focus on external benefits, we should not forget that there are also solid internal reasons for using a blog in a small business and ease of use is right at the top of that list. Blogs can be used in addition to a business website or as part of it they can also be used instead of a website. In all of these cases, once established, you can publish new content or change pages on your site without relying on a web designer or webmaster. Reader friendly, user friendly and cost effective.

Research your Market
Your Business Blog provides you with a two way communication tool, and the information that you can get from your readers may be highly important. By participating in the discussions that your posts will generate, you should be able to get a clearer idea of what the up to the minute interests of your clients are. Surveys and focus groups can achieve this to a certain level but open conversations on your Blog will achieve much more, both in terms of depth and breadth.

Finally a word of advice: dont get hung up about the word blog a blog is a tool and its what you do with it that counts. Many people use Microsoft Word but the documents that they produce are as varied as the author. The same is true with Blogs for small businesses. So, evaluate what you need as a business and then focus strongly on using the Blog for that purpose and it will be successful for you.

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This post is the 5th part of the series which looks at the 5 key elements of creating a successful Business Blog. These elements are:

ReadReplyReturnRecommendRSS

Let’s turn our attention to the fifth and final ‘R, which is:

Communication and dissemination of information is key to achieving a successful blog and the RSS functionality is the way to achieve that. So as the 5th R, Im including is RSS.

When someone subscribes to your RSS Feed, it means that they have shown a commitment to continuing the interaction they are interested in receiving more information from you and you are now able to provide them with immediate and unobtrusive updates from your blog.

RSS is definitely “Opt-in”
Being completely “opt-in”, it is also a totally safe method for readers to receive information, after all it is anonymous and they can opt out whenever they wish. This may sound unappealing from a writer’s perspective but all this in fact means is that the onus is on us to create content that people are going to want to read. RSS is the perfect way to deliver it safely.

Make the RSS Feeds easy to find
You want to make sure that the RSS feeds are prominent on your blog to make it as easy as possible for visitors to find. The generic orange logo is now becoming more and more commonplace although even more sites still retain the orange box with RSS or XML in it. You can also add a series of small logos which are set up with the names of the main RSS Readers to help make the process easier and more visible – this is great as it can help people feel more comfortable about subscribing.

Offer RSS by email too
To cover all options, you should also make use of the 3rd party services such as Feedblitzwhich give people the ability to subscribe to the RSS feed by email not quite the way that RSS was intended to be delivered but the main point is delivering the content it contains to those who want to receive it. In any case, the take up of RSS, which has been steady but still relatively slow, is likely to increase dramatically as it is incorporated directly into the main browsers this year.

Explain RSS and how great it is to use
To help the take up levels, create a page which explains what RSS is and what RSS Readers are available this may not seem necessary, but if it helps to break down the barriers to its use then it is worthwhile and both you and your readers will benefit from this additional effort because they will receive your content as and when you post it.

Customise your RSS Feed
You should look to customise your feed where possible to include branding elements such as your logo and have the feed appear as you would like it to. Differentiate yourself in your feed. However, if you are not proficient in XML, then don’t worry. If you use the tools available from a company such as Feedburner then you can easily do this at the click of a button – you may also find my post Feedburner: using your RSS feed more effectively useful in this context.

Wider syndication
Although RSS Feeds are generally read in individual’s browsers, the syndication of this information doesn’t need to stop there. RSS Feeds can also be taken and displayed on websites elsewhere using software which turns the feed into text which is visible in a browser – this allows you to syndicate and spread the information from your Blog even more widely.

Target more with multiple RSS Feeds
As your blog develops, you should consider creating a separate RSS Feed for individual topics, probably divided according to the categories you have set up. This will allow your readers even greater choice in terms of the information they receive from you and in terms of giving your readers what they want, more choice is going to be better.

But whether you work from a single RSS feed or develop multiple feeds, it is important that you make RSS a central part of your blog promotion and reader retention program. It is something which underpins the other elements and allows the Business Blog to reach its full potential by making the information we produce as widely available as possible.

Key elements: explain benefits of RSS, make RSS easy to subscribe to, customise your RSS feed, push the use of RSS, use multiple RSS Feeds where appropriate, syndication of information

So remember, we are looking to cover these 5 elements:

ReadReplyReturnRecommendRSS

If we can achieve each of these 5Rs successfully in our Business Blogging, then we are well on the way to creating a Business Blog which will achieve the goals that we set for it, whether they are focused on creating a network, improving our reputation or positioning, developing a solid base of subscribers, increasing our Search Engine Rankings or simply generating new business.

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Spotlight on UK Blogs - all postsEach week, I will be highlighting some of the Business Blogs which exist in the UK. The aim is to show a cross section of what people and businesses are writing about and how they are approaching the task of using blogs in their business activities. As a result, you’ll find that these posts will contain a mix of Blogs displaying a range of topics and styles.

In addition to this weekly selection, I am working with others to build a comprehensive list of Business Blogs in the UK. So if there are UK blogs which you have visited and would recommend (including your own!), then please let me know by leaving a comment or sending me a message. Thanks!

English Cut
English Cut from Thomas Mahon, a Savile Row tailor, who has demonstrated absolutely how a small business can harness the power of a Business Blog to build reputation and business across the UK and the World.

A PR Guru’s Musings
Written by Stuart Bruce, founder and partner of Bruce Marshall Associates, who has been musing since 2003 on the subject of Public Relations and very entertainingly so.

The Engaging Brand
Podcasts and an engaging blog from Anna Farmery over at The Engaging Brand!

Wishful Thinking
Mark Mc Guinness focusing on coaching creative professionals to achieve their artistic and commercial goals … practical, as well as Wishful, Thinking!

Thomson Holidays
One of the few larger UK companies which have realised where the potential of blogging lies for their company and brand. So what’s happened to the rest of you? If you know of others then let me know!

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This post is the 4th part of the series which looks at the 5 key elements of creating a successful Business Blog. These elements are:

ReadReplyReturn – Recommend – RSS

Let’s turn our attention to the fourth ‘R, which is:

This could also have been R for Refer, but I prefer the concept of recommending which has a more positive connotation and when someone recommends your Blog, that is a very positive thing!

Online “Word of Mouth” recommendations
Recommending can be done in many ways including simply telling people about the blog – and the simplest way is so often the best and most effective! Online, this type of ‘word of mouth’ is achieved through reference and linking the lifeblood of the blogosphere. The main difference, of course, is that rather than just telling one person, they are recommending your post to all the people who read their blog.

References from posts
Writing posts which reference another blog is the best way to recommend them in doing so, you are likely to refer directly to the original article and then develop the points it raises or give your own thoughts on them. A post can also be referred to in an article or indeed in a comment. In each case, the author is giving a clear indication that the content is valuable and acts as a personal recommendation that their readers should visit the blog to read the full post.

Follow up with those who recommend you
When you are referenced and thereby recommended from another blog, the likelihood is that the blogger will also use a trackback, and so you will be aware of the link that has been made. If possible, you should consider commenting on their new post and also thanking them for the reference. What does this achieve? It allows you to contribute additional information, to develop the conversation further and also to progress the relationship.

Blogroll or Recommended List
Perhaps the simplest way to be recommended in a Blog, and yet the one which will take the most time, is to be added to its Blogroll – the Blogroll is the term used to indicate Recommended Blogs and is a series of links which will be found on most serious blogs. On some these lists can seem never ending, however, this is only likely to happen once you have established a strong relationship with the owner of that blog.

Contacting Bloggers
You can always actively seek out other Bloggers to refer to one of your posts. This is not quite as unusual as it may seem, though it is important to go about it in the right way. You can contact bloggers who write in similar areas to yourself with details of one of your posts that they may find interesting if you have researched properly and your post is of good quality, there will be some who reference the post on their blog and hence link back to you. Not exactly active recommendation but certainly a way to spread the word and allow those who did not know you previously the opportunity to recommend you to their readers. It is only advisable to do this occasionally and on posts which really warrant it.

Keep doing the right things well
However, except for these unusual circumstances, in general how do we get someone to recommend us? Well, by continuing to do the other elements correctly in ensuring that we get people returning regularly to our Blog, making sure the content they read there is of consistently high quality and of relevance to them, which in turn will make sure that they feel confident in recommending it.

These are PERSONAL recommendations
At the end of the day, it is not something that you can force someone into. Nor should you want to. By linking to you, they are effectively giving you a personal recommendation to their own readers which reflects on themselves. In essence, when you recommend a blog to someone it is like inviting them to join a network or a community, just as if you are sharing something important with them.

And remember that these types of recommendations come from the most important source: from your readers – from people and not from computer generated links.

Key Elements: write posts which warrant recommendations, follow up trackbacks, continue quality content, develop relationships into communities, treat personal recommendations with gratitude

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Seminar FAQsBusiness Blogging Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Q – Does my blog only show up in Blog Search Engines or also Google, Yahoo and MSN?

A – A common misconception when businesses start to use a Business Blog and learn about the Blog Search Engines is that their Blog will only appear in these blog specific Search Engines and not in the mainstream ones. This is not true.

A Blog at the end of the day is a website with special charateristics and so will certainly appear in the main Search Engines such as Google, Yahoo and MSN. In fact, they are much more likely to rank highly because they have key elements that the Search Engines find very attractive:

  • their internal stucture, which is highly organised and groups similar posts together in categories which creates highly relevant pages on individual topics which Search Engines love;

  • the very focused nature and quality of their content which is at the core of what Search Engines are looking to offer their users;

  • the fact that they are generally updated on a very frequent basis, as the more recent the information the higher its relevance is likely to be

  • the inbound links from other blogs (and websites) which is part and parcel of the ethos of the blogosphere and which constitutes a major factor in ranking sites.

The main Search Engines will find your Blog by following links to it from other sites that are already in their index, so there is no need to submit it directly to them, and it will then be treated using the criteria that are applied to any other site. Criteria which you will rank well in if you are using a Blog to good effect.

You can use other Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) methods in addition which will give an additional boost in your rankings, but you already have a number of advantages which will serve you well. So make sure that you write quality and targeted posts on a regular basis and ensure that you promote your blog well.

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This post is the 3rd part of the series which looks at the 5 key elements of creating a successful Business Blog. These elements are:

ReadReply – Return – RecommendRSS>

Let’s turn our attention to the third of the 5 Rs, which is:

If people are interested in what you are writing about and find value in it then the likelihood is that they will return to read more. By maintaining the quality of your posts and demonstrating your expertise on a consistent basis, you will develop not only a loyal readership but you will also be developing a level of trust and a bond between yourself and those reading your Blog.

Targeted, quality content
In planning a Business Blog, one of the key elements to decide is who is the intended audience of the blog. If we have managed to maintain this focus with posts whose content is directly relevant to our target group and of high quality, then we are on the way to exceeding their expectations and encouraging regular readers. They will not come back just to read excerpts from your product portfolio which are nothing more than classified ads. They will, however, return to hear more of the same original, interesting and information based opinion that drew them in the first place.

An inviting “Look & Feel”
You should also make your Blog look inviting you need to make a good first impression to turn visitors into regular readers so let your graphics and the format of your Blog help you. Two things that you definitely want to avoid:

  • using a default template which then puts you in the same category as thousands of others. You need to differentiate yourself and so let the look and feel of your Blog help to display the quality of its content;

  • and, secondly, just having long pages of text. Break up the text perhaps using images or graphs, include bulleted lists where appropriate and use other formatting to keep the look interesting.

Make it easy to return
As you have persuaded them to return, make it easy for them to do so. RSS [the 5th R] is the ideal way to achieve this for blogs which we will examine later, either directly or even via email. But dont forget about the inclusion of a newsletter on your Blog if that is appropriate which can also direct readers back to you RSS and newsletters can work well hand in hand. If nothing else, at least suggest that they put your Blog in their Favourites on their browser, and then show them how to do that.

Entice them with a series
You can also encourage them back by the way you structure what you are writing. For example, if you write a series of posts on a single subject which attracts attention, then you are encouraging your readers back again to read the rest of the articles in the series. In the same way, you can pre-announce certain topics ahead of posting them so that people are eager to return to check for them.

Be THE place for information
Develop your Blog as THE place to go to for information on your niche area. In addition to demonstrating your own ideas and thoughts, make sure you reference and provide links to other relevant articles and also invite in other people to write a post or a short series. These guest bloggers will give an additional dimension to your Blog, assuming the subject matter remains focused, and will add kudos to what you are doing. Readers will return because you will be providing all the information they require on your chosen subject area – it may be available elsewhere on the web, but they KNOW they can find it on your Blog so that’s where they go.

Easy Navigation especially to Key posts
Once they have returned to your Blog, make sure that it is easy to navigate and make sure that all of the information can easily be found and the posts are categorised sensibly. It is also a good idea to highlight your key articles so that they can easily be found just create a page with links to all your main articles and then create a special link to it in your sidebar.

Finally, remember that getting your current readers to return is easier than attracting new readers, just as it has been proven time and time again in business that it costs more to find a new customer than to keep the ones that you have. So make as much effort to get current readers to return as you do attracting new ones.

Key elements: maintain focus on your readers, make posts easy to find, make your Blog look appealing, develop trust and a bond, become THE information source in your niche, make it easy to return

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