October 2006


Theres been lots of talk about Edelman and the WalMarting across America fake blog (or flog) episode across the blogosphere over the past two weeks as you’d expect – lots of accusations and finger wagging, most of it justified. (In case you are blisssfully unaware of this then this, this, this or this will fill you in on the background).

My own issue isn’t so much with the initial action (naive as it was) or the delay in Edelmans reply but the impact this type of action has. This impact is felt not only by those already blogging and using the blogosphere, but is even more telling on those companies still examining it and deciding if it is something they should get involved in. An episode like this can have a huge impact in terms of trust, something which is essential if people and companies are to consider blogs as a source of reliable information and hence worthy of their attention.

A survey run by Globescan earlier this year indicated that the blogosphere still suffers from an image problem with only 25% of those polled indicating that they trust of the information they provide, less than other types of media. This is clearly an issue yet is one that can only be changed over time – episodes like this will only serve to set back that process.

The need to be whiter than whiter at this stage of the blogospheres growth is critical. To many, the blogosphere seems to have a more of a reputation for outing information like a tabloid reporter rather than providing critical updates and valued opinion. This isnt necessarily true but thats not the point – its perception that counts.

But like anything, there are differences. Trust in online sources has to be earned – not just for blogs as a whole but individual blogs within that. Those blogs which have shown themselves to be reliable and informative will build an audience which trusts and values the information that they provide, though it is all too easy to lose that trust.

Episodes like this one with Wal-Mart and Edelman are embarrassing for the companies involved and also potentially damaging for the image of the blogging in general. If it gets tarnished by so called spin then it loses credibility and that could impact us all.

I find it slightly ironic that blogs, which are such a perfect tool to help build trust and reputation, can result in such a public loss of both when misused. At the same time, I also find it reassuring that the reaction this has provoked shows that there is a self-regulatory force at play which will I hope dissuade others from attempting something similar.

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Lately, I’ve been working with a number of companies and individuals who are either looking for a blog makeover or who want to set up a blog for the first time.

Particularly, as I have carried out the Blog Appraisal which forms part of the blog makeover, I have noticed a number of areas which are important when starting a Business blog before you ever “put finger to keyboard”, as it were! Yet often they have been overlooked so I thought I’d share some of the main ones here – let me know if there are others that you think should be included!

a) Dont skimp on time spent planning your Blog
The planning process for your Business Blog is a crucial time but one that often seems to be skipped over or done hurriedly. You can save a great deal of pain later on by spending a little time planning out what you want to achieve with your blog and how to do it. Time spent in outlining the focus and the target audience of your blog is time well spent and ideally also make time to map out the posts for the first few weeks so that the initial postings go smoothly.

b) Keep Navigation Easy
Your blog gets structured automatically for you but I’d still make sure that the category names are well chosen and visible – I find that new visitors to a blog use these most often to get around. Help your readers find your blog home page quickly and easily – convention suggests that clicking on the banner at the top should take you back to the home page, but be aware that there are new readers of blogs everyday who will be more familiar with a “home” link.

c) Make Key Posts easy to find
As you increase the number of posts on your site, make sure that readers can find the posts which really get to the heart of your business – these could be the initial “Foundation” posts or ones you have added later. One possibility is to create a page (linked directly from your sidebar) called Top 10 posts or Key Articles or whatever you feel best describes them. This page can then contain links to all of your key posts. In this way, you make sure that they are highlighted in amongst all of the other information that you provide.

d) Profile and Contact details
Not putting a profile and contact details on your blog is missing out on an opportunity and potentially shooting yourself in the foot particularly if your blog is a stand alone site rather than integrated as part of your company website. If I find what I am reading interesting then I may want to get in touch with the author, so make it easy for me to do so! You should also use your profile page as the place where you can outline the goals of your blog as well as presenting yourself use this to achieve maximum effect for yourself.

e) Create your own look and feel
All blog software comes with base templates which dictate what a Blog looks like whatever you do, dont leave it as this default base version! There is nothing worse than spending time creating a wonderful blog full of excellent information and then leave it looking like thousands of others would you do that with a website or with a book? No! Make sure that you change it either yourself or get someone in to do it for you it will differentiate you and what you have to say as well as help with your positioning, so make the most of it.

f) Avoid free hosted blogging systems for a Business Blog
Sorry, this is a bugbear of mine but I feel that you should have control over any important aspect of your business and a Business Blog is just that, so dont leave it on a hosted system which gives you little flexibility or control. Also remember that you should try to choose a blogging platform which will grow with you as you discover other areas where a blog can help your business. Changing blogging platforms is a pain that is best avoided, so choose one which means you don’t have to!

g) Not setting up friendly permalinks
Setting up search engine and visitor friendly permalinks and URLs for your blog is beneficial from all points of view and something you should do as part of the set-up. If you leave them in a format such as www.yourblog.com/?cat=34 then you are missing out in a number of ways – so set them up correctly from the start and make sure that you are not left ruing this as your Blog develops and it becomes more difficult to change.

h) Add Clear RSS Feed details
RSS is already a key tool and is only going to get more important, particularly as its visibility starts to increase following the release of Internet Explorer 7 and Firefox 2 over the past weeks, both of which include an RSS reader (of sorts!). Give readers options and where appropriate explain what RSS is and how it can benefit them!

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Cadbury SchweppesHopefully you will have gathered by now that one of my key messages regarding business blogs is that they are there to support you in your business activities consider them simply as tools to help you to achieve business goals and work forward from there. Once you manage that, then a whole range of potential uses will start to appear.

For me, one good example of this has been at Cadbury Schweppes where they have been using blogs as a way of promoting their graduate recruitment. They have encouraged some of their current graduate recruits to talk about their experiences at Cadburys across different business areas and have given them the opportunity to do this through a series of individual blogs. Hopefully by posting their experiences, they are giving a more personal view of what they are doing and what their opinion is of it and allowing potential applicants a little more insight into what the company offers.

Its impossible to tell how much editorial control is going on and the blogs themselves are not that exciting but that isnt the point. The point is, do they achieve their goal of giving people interested in working at Cadburys additional insight into what it is like to work for the company and whether they should consider it. I believe that it does and therefore, as such, is a good blog set-up because it achieves its goal.

Only time will tell but I think that alongside the huge increase in companies implementing blogs to help their internal communications or customer relations activities, we will also see a whole raft of specific uses for blogs appearing such as this one.

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I was interested to note over the weekend that Google had downloaded a new version of its toolbar onto my computer. Not that important in itself, but it had added an option to install a button which gives instant access to Googles Blog Search engine – pity that they decided to use the Blogger.com insignia which is bound to cause confusion. Nevertheless, an positive step to take.

This was not the only new publicity for Googles Blog Search. Techcrunch also pointed out something I had not noticed which is that a link to Googles Blog Search had also been added to the Google News homepage. Not exactly prominent at the moment (look at the top right hand corner) but a step in the right direction.

While neither of these actions by Google is in any way groundbreaking, it is nevertheless a clear indication that they are taking their Blog Search engine and blogs in general very seriously.

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I was recently reading a post by Chris Lake over at e-Consultancy discussing the relative merits of Witty vs Descriptive Headlines for your blog posts.

Interesting stuff and some nice examples but not quite the whole story.

Firstly though, why are they important? They are important because they act just like a newspaper headline – they attract the readers’ attention and encourage them to read the full article. With the huge amount of information that we have nowadays it is vitally important that we attract people’s attention in the short space of time that we are given to achieve this and generally we only have the post title at our disposal to achieve this.

However, we need to remember that we are in fact trying to attract the attention of two groups: readers (or should I clarify by saying ‘human readers’) and Search Engines. Unfortunately, they don’t react in the same way and they aren’t attracted by the same things. While human readers are attracted by humour, nuance, plays on words as well as information, Search Engines are attracted purely by the words which we provide.

But there’s more!! More? Yes, there’s more! Because we are working on-line, we have to remember what people actually see in different situations and places – bear with me here, it’s important!

In RSS Feeds, the title of your post appears, as it does in the main Blog Search Engines such as Technorati or Google Blog Search. As people browse here, then the title is critical because it is the only real element that you can use to attract their attention as they skim through the articles on offer.

However, in the main Search Engine Results pages (such as Google and Yahoo) what you see is not the title of your post but the “Title Tag”. This is distinct from your post title and something which you can control separately. The Title Tag is doubly important because it is a key element that the main Search Engines look at when ranking pages – they do take note of the title of your post, but they take much more interest in the “Title Tag”.

So which way to go? My own preference is to keep the title interesting without making it too cryptic, and I always try to include the main keyword for the article. I then make sure that I modify the Title Tag to ensure that that is keyword rich – if you want more details then you ‘ll find more information in my SEO series.

So, try to appeal to both audiences. You are best placed to know what will appeal to your readers and you can guess that, for Search Engines, the principal keyword phrases for the post are going to be key. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to combine both as well as you can.

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I had the pleasure yesterday to meet up with some fellow bloggers in London yesterday.

Debbie Weil and Neville Hobson were both speaking at the Melcrum SCM Summit and kindly organised the get together for the evening. It was excellent to have the chance to meet up and chat with everyone who was there. I’d obviously read lots of what Debbie and Neville have written and I also had been in contact previously with both Keith Collins and Matt O’Neill but it was really good to meet in person.

There were lots of different perspectives on what blogging is currently offering and where it is heading – exactly as it should be. The uses for blogging in businesses are extremely wide because it can impact at so many different levels – so whether a company is focusing on improving relations with customers, increasing internal communications, developing and testing new products or “simply” raising its profile (and sales) in the marketplace then blogging has a role to play. And a significant one at that.

So who was there? Well, there was Debbie Weil, Neville Hobson, Matt O’Neill, Martyn Davies, Tom Shelley, Keith Collins and Alex Manchester (editor & blogger for Melcrum).

It was a really enjoyable evening and I’m looking forward to having the chance to meet up again soon together with anyone else who would be interested. Anyone else fancy coming along sometime in mid November?

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As reported last week, Google has decided that spending $1.65bn would be a good idea to acquire You Tube.

Clearly, Google thinks this is a good idea, I would imagine that the founders of You Tube would agree and no doubt there are some copyright lawyers rubbing their hands in glee that they have a target with remarkably deep pockets to go after on behalf of all the copyrighted videos that somehow find their way onto the You Tube site.

But just what makes You Tube so attractive when Google, along with the other major players in the sector, have their own products. Well, clearly the visitor levels to the site are a major part of this together with their spending potential for online advertising which is, let’s face it, Google’s primary source of income. But is that it?

Personally, I’m tempted by the argument that the major players are showing that they realise that the social communities and social networks on the web are going to be the places which will continue to grow and where people will “congregate”. Where there are people, there is of course also value.

And this is why I feel that it is particularly worthy of mention here. Blogs can also develop into a type of combined social and business network, albeit on a micro scale. The topics discussed and the type of people attracted will depend on the subject matter of the blog and will therefore be broadly led by the author who also imbues its , but it is the participation of the readers of the blog which really give it its character over time.

Why are blogs particularly suited to this? Primarily because, when developed well, they embody the ethos of sharing and of community that social networks display. In successful blogs, information is freely shared and linking to other sources is generally done on a merit basis rather than because of a shared desire to belong to a “link farm of two”.

In doing so, good individual and business blogs put themselves at the heart of a network or a community which forms around a blog. This happens because it attracts and draws together people with similar interests and allows them to communicate with each other. And that of course is great for business too!

We may not all be able to create a community which we can sell on for a 10 figure sum (!), but in our own ways we are trying to do just the same as You Tube. We are creating an environment where not only the author, but all the participants can share ideas and opinions on a diverse range of subjects and learn from each other.

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A small piece of news today from the Googleplex is that you can now ping Google BlogSearch, their dedicated Blog Search Engine, directly to let them now that you have updated your blog. They will still be gathering information from other ping services but it’s good to cover all avenues by pinging them directly as well.

If you want to submit your feed to them manually then you can do that on this page although ideally you will simply add http://blogsearch.google.com/ping/RPC2 to your automatic pinging service in your blog. In WordPress, you can find this in the Admin section by going to Options > Writing. At the bottom of the page you will find the Update Services section where you can add the ping URL.

Alternatively, I have also updated the Pinging Services page here on Better Business Blogging, so you can just cut and paste the whole list into the same area in WordPress.

If you are unsure what pinging is all about or why it is important, then I suggest you have a look at the Bloggers Guide to Posting and Pinging.

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Ok, starting the month as I hope not to go on – with an apology.

Unfortunately, I have been posting rather less frequently than I would have liked during September – reasons (or should that be excuses?) are partly due to my being away on holiday and then catching up again afterwards, launching The Blog Coach to run alongside Better Business Blogging and general increased workload.

All positive things but not really reasons not to post. Having nothing useful to contribute – now that would be a good reason not to post. So, no excuse really – just get organised, which is what I will be doing.

Therefore October will see a return to more regular posts and and I will be starting a new series to replace the Spotlight on UK Blogs (moved to The Blog Coach) called “AVerse to Weekly Blogging” which I hope will be useful and a bit of fun.

Personal Verdict (September 06): C+ Must do better

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