December 2006


As we now approach the end of 2006 and we also near the first anniversary of Better Business Blogging, I thought that it would be appropriate to look back and highlight some of the most popular posts from this year.

Thanks to you, the readers of this blog, I’ve been able to look back and have listed below the 10 posts that you have chosen because they have attracted the most attention and comments over the course of the year.

And so, without further ado, and in the traditional reverse order …

10. Blogs and Newsletters: complementary marketing tools

9. Spotlight on UK Business Blogs (Now moved to their new home on The Blog Coach)

8. The Green Cross Code of Blogging

7. Why Search Engines love Blogs

6. Promoting and Marketing your Business Blog (Intro)

5. Linking out isnt negative, its essential!

4. Starting a Business Blog – BBB Quick Guides

3. The 5 R’s of Better Business Blogging (A 5 post series starting with this post)

2. Why Small Businesses should have a Business Blog

... and finally, the most popular is …

1. Business Blog: separate domain or on your website

I hope that you have found it useful to revisit some of these – it has certainly proved very useful to me as it has given me a clear indication of the areas where I should be focusing most attention.

I look forward to doing so and sharing much more with you in the year ahead.

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Well, it’s time to put the keyboard to one side for a few days so this will be my last post before Christmas – family duties call! I will, however, be posting between Christmas and the New Year and looking ahead to 2007 to try to see where blogging and social media will be fitting into the business fabric over the next 12 months.

For now, though, I’d like to really thank all of you who have been reading and commenting on Better Business Blogging since it was started earlier this year – it certainly has been very inspiring to have had the opportunity to talk to so many of you, mainly online but also face to face, and I hope I will be able to meet more of you during the coming year.

A very Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays and a Peaceful Festive Season to you!

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  1. Wishing you a Happy Christmas!

I’ve been tagged in the “5 things that you didn’t know about me” meme that is circulating the blogosphere by Matt Ambrose over at The Copywriter’s Crucible. Okay so here goes:

1. I will be becoming a father for the first time early in the New Year – as a result I have decided to go prematurely grey now as I feel that will save me a lot time later on.

2. I’ve lived and worked in both Spain and France and was fluent in both languages. Time and lack of use has dented that slightly in recent years but I can still hold my own. (I am still referring to my linguistic abilities, I might add).

3. I did magic (conjuring) shows for children for a time when I was much much younger – I also worked for Birds Eye measuring their peas.

4. I used to be able to recite full episodes of Fawlty Towers and a variety of Monty Python and Not The Nine o’Clock News sketches – I gathered from friends that this can be quite amusing the first couple of times but becomes slightly annoying by the time you get into double figures. Early retirement as a stand-in John Cleese was offered (then demanded) and therefore accepted.

5. I grew up in Lowestoft – its claim to fame is not that it is a sleepy ex fishing town in Suffolk but rather that Lowestoft Ness is the most easterly point in England … oh, and the band “The Darkness” hail from there as well.

I’ll pass this on to some people that I have been working with over the past few months:

Linda Mattacks at Small Business Training
Pam Stokes at The ‘Busy People’ Coach
Ann Greene at Allagi Consulting

Happy Tagging!

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Permalinks are key to blogs – they let us find the posts that we are looking for and allow us to link to them. Every post and page has a permalink which is created automatically for it but we do have the option of improving them to really get them working for us.

Since they are created automatically, many of us just forget about them and get on with writing our posts and interacting with our readers. However, with a little bit of effort when we set up our blog and we can make the permalinks much more useful for our readers and attractive for Search Engines.

So what is a Permalink?
A Permalink is simply the individual address of a page on your blog which is otherwise known as its URL. Theres nothing mysterious about it. Every page on every website has an address and its what both your readers and Search Engines use to identify it. The main permalinks that people refer to on blogs are those for the individual posts but also each category and each monthly archive has its own unique one too.

Why are permalinks important?
Most blogging systems have a basic and rather uninspiring permalink structure as their standard set-up which simply includes the number they have allocated to the post or category. The format is something like:

www.betterbusinessblogging.com/?p=14

Not very helpful to your readers and absolutely no help to Search Engines.

However, by making a couple of small changes and including the name of the post in the permalink, you can make it much more useful. Immediately people will have a better idea of what it contains and, if you have keywords in your post title, then you are giving Search Engines a real boost as well.

What are the options are available?
If you are using a system like WordPress, then the options are endless. Apart from the standard or default setting above, there is also two preset possibilities using the Date and name version’

www.betterbusinessblogging.com/2006/12/17/name-of -post/

and the numeric version

www.betterbusinessblogging.com/archives/14/

By far the most useful, however, is the custom version which gives you almost total flexibility with the elements that can include in the permalink – WordPress allows you to include the year, month, category, post name, author and a number of other options. These options can be changed from the Administration area by going to Options > Permalinks and then selecting the format that you require or creating your custom format.

What is the best permalink format?
While I dont think you can say that there is a single best format, my personal preference is to use a combination of the category and the name of the post in the permalink such as

www.betterbusinessblogging.com/category-name/name-of post/

Why that combination? Personally, I like to make the best possible use of all elements of SEO and so prefer to include the category that the post belongs to rather than the date – the categories, of course, should also be descriptive and include relevant keywords.

Including the name of the post is essential in my opinion, whatever other elements you decide to include. Not only does it provide additional information about the post, it will hopefully have at least one keyword for the search engines. Does this create more work for you in the future? Not at all. Once you have chosen the structure, WordPress still creates the permalink automatically for you by using your post’s title and inserting hyphens in between the words instead of spaces.

Importantly, you can also modify the exact form of the words that appear as the ‘post name’ element in the permalink by changing the post slug. You can find this as one of the boxes on the right hand side of the page when you write or manage your posts.

Word of Warning
At the start of this post, I mentioned that a permalink is the address of your page. When a Search Engine indexes a page or a blogger links to a post, they do so using the page’s permalink thats how people can then find your post. If you decide to change your permalink format after you have been posting for a while, then you run the risk of breaking these links so do be careful.

If you change from the default ?p=14 to a friendly, custom, permalink then you will be ok – the database should still recognise the original default setting as well as the new friendly one. However, changing from one custom permalink to another will need additional work to maintain your inbound links.

Conclusion
Getting the best out of your permalinks may seem a small element but it is another important building block in creating a blog which has all the elements in place to push your business forward. Easy to recognise addresses online are beneficial for your readers and Search Engines so take a moment or two to create the best one for you when you set up your business blog.

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There was a TV program called Faking It which ran for 5 series on Channel 4 here in the UK.

A person from one walk of life is given the challenge of becoming expert in a totally different field with the help of an expert who trains them. At the end of a month, the volunteer takes part in a contest against experienced participants in the new field. A panel of expert judges then give their verdict on which participant is the “faker”.

I sometimes get the feeling that some PR agencies watch too much TV. It also seems that there are companies still willing to face a similar type of Faking It challenge and risk damaging their brand by creating fake blogs and trying to pass them off as real marketing.

Following the episode with Edelman and WalMart, I personally thought that that would probably be the end of fake blogs or flogs as they were coined. But lo and behold, up steps Sony and their agency Zipatoni to fill the gap with their excruciatingly bad AllIWantforXmasisaPsp.com.

The really bad elements (and there were some REALLY bad elements) were taken down and replaced with a short acknowledgement from Sony, rather in the air of a naughty schoolboy which has been caught cheating. That too now seems to have disappeared along with the site. However, if you want some detail of what was previously there then you will find some views on it at ZDNet and PC Doctor.

I’d like to re-iterate a couple of points that were made after the WalMart flog, but which still seem to be ignored by some:

  1. trying to fake a blog is likely to end in disaster, whether you have expert help or not. It is quite simply not a good idea there are too many “expert judges” able to spot exactly whats going on;

  2. if you are going to use blogging in a marketing or PR perspective, then it’s always good to get the right specialists in who are going to be able to help you;

  3. blogs need to be authentic – authenticity and genuine interest (as Ryan Anderson points out here) is best left to those who aren’t faking it.

So please let’s leave Faking It to Reality TV and the television companies.

And to any businesses looking to engage in blogging as part of their marketing activities great decision! There are so many excellent ways in which you can use online marketing in general and blogs in particular to get your message across and create a buzz around a product … however, creating fake blogs is not one of them.

To summarise:

  1. If you are even vaguely considering perhaps at some point in the future potentially using a fake blog, then don’t;

  2. See point 1.

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If I see one more person just one!! introducing blogs simply as the magic solution which will instantly turbo boost my sales or promising to show me the one secret about blogs that the experts dont want me to reveal that will skyrocket my bank balance I think Im going to snap.

[The image you want to conjure up at this point is from Fawlty Towers – just cast your mind back to the car breaking down in Gourmet Night – for those of you without a copy handy, you will find that particular clip about 2 minutes into this excerpt.]

Thats how I feel. Probably in red letters, bold , font size 30 with yellow highlighter pen over it!

Why does it rile me so much? Wouldnt I be happy for small businesses and corporates alike to launch a blog and have explosive and instant surges of cash cascading into their bank accounts? Well, yes, I would of course be delighted.

My issue (apart from the bad English) is that these people are setting unrealistic expectations and time frames – this results in people starting blogs expecting immediate success and then abandoning them because they fail to live up to these hyped levels.

Blogs are excellent marketing tools, they are brilliant at developing dialogue and thereby fostering relationships and they do give great benefits in the Search Engine Rankings – all of this will bring new customers and greater visibility. But it will also take time and effort.

So, come on people lets cut back on the spin and focus on the very real benefits that blogs bring to business. Dont think of a blog as something which will give an instant turbo boost to your sales consider it more as a top of the range car that you keep well serviced and which then provides you with years of high quality performance, higher profile and admiring comments.

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Last week, I wrote – granted, tongue in cheek – a post called How to avoid negative comments which looked at the problem of companies which are reluctant to blog because they feel that they will open themselves up to an avalanche of negative comments.

Another concern that I often experience (rather than hear expressed) is a reluctance to link to other websites and blogs from posts. Creating links which go away from your blog somehow seems contradictory in many peoples minds. I think that this comes from the idea that linking out means losing something, whether that be visitors (and by implication potential customers) or Search Engine Power! as it were, in terms of Page Rank.

Difference of Approach

Its true that perceived wisdom online has always suggested that once you have a potential customer on your site, you should direct them to do one thing and one thing only get them onto the page where they can buy from you! This is exactly the right approach on sites which are set up with direct selling in mind however, that isnt the case with most blogs.

Personally, I consider that there are 4 key things we are looking to encourage visitors to our blog to do Read, Reply, Return & Recommend as I explained in The 5 Rs of Better Business Blogging. If I had to pick a single goal for a blog, I think that it would probably be to get visitors to return and become regular readers. By fostering and developing these relationships, sales will still be the likely result if that is your end goal.

Informing and Supporting

The blogosphere works on different parametres from most other websites. It thrives on links & connections and those blogs which create those outbound links will tend to thrive with it.

Linking is carried out for three principal reasons:

  1. referencing and connecting to sources of information as part of the support and corroboration that you are providing for one of your posts;

  2. as a general recommendation of other blogs as excellent sources of information;

  3. as a way to help readers follow an ongoing discussion or topic by following the links between blogs carrying on that “conversation”.

So, as you link out to other blogs, you lend greater relevance and credence to your own. At the same time, you are encouraging others to look at and hopefully reference your own blog – trackbacks in addition to links in the body of your posts will help this.

Creating Community / Network and Value

Every time that you link out, instead of giving away or losing value, you are in fact gaining it. In the process, you are creating a mini resource in your area of expertise which will in turn help to generate a community or network around it with you and your blog at its centre.

The links that you provide help your readers to discover more about the subject matter as well as follow and track discussions that are going on. They will use your blog as their start point for their investigations because they trust the information and the links that you provide effectively you become their online directory and general resource in your specialism. You become THE person to go go to for them.

And, if you are worried that you are making it easy for them to find other authors on the subject, then dont. With Search Engines, they would find these articles anyway – however, by helping them, you are in fact strengthening your position, as you are providing them with a resouce and network which they will keep returning to.

Conclusion

So should you just link to everyone? Well, no. The quality of links that you provide and the sources that you refer to reflect on you. Equally, there is no point linking just for the sake of it – your blogroll of sites is likely to show your general recommendations so keep the links in your posts relevant to the subject that you are writing about.

Above all, never worry about linking to other sites that you wish to recommend or refer to – you will find that just as you link to other blogs, others will link to you because your writing and blogging ethos merits it. What goes around, comes around – in a good sense!

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Well, “not” is the short answer.

Why mention this at all. Well, merely because Steve Rubel makes the point in his post By some measures, blogging may be peaking that it may be doing just that. He goes on to add that it is really the number of daily posts that he feels may indicate this peaking.

I must admit that I feel that it is a bit of a sweeping statement to make on the back of a slight fall back in the number of posts which could be caused by seasonality, personal factors or any other number of criteria.

One comment he makes amused me in particular:

“Everyone who wants to publish a blog actively may already have one”.

Sounds a bit like the quote (or misquote) that “there is a world market for 5 computers” to me.

To be honest, I’m much more inclined to Shel Israel’s take on it over at Naked Conversations. In a post today, he comments

I see evidence that blogging is going where Robert and I predicted it would go in Naked Conversations and that is everywhere.

I fall more into this camp. I still think that we are in the early stages of blogging in general and certainly in Business Blogging – early adopter phase, if you like, rather than the early majority.

As for Business Blogging, that’s certainly still just getting started (innovator / early adopter level) and we are merely scratching the surface in terms of realising the different ways in which they can use it. Particularly so here in the UK where companies and individuals who already using blogs to benefit their businesses and their customers can still consider themselves to be well ahead of the game (and the competition!).

How blogging is used and perceived is certainly both changing and developing, but to say that it is peaking is I feel more than a little premature.

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I’ve been trying to slowly catch up with some back reading from the last week when I had a bit of time away from the PC; so I am now trying to catch up with some great posts sitting snugly in my RSS Reader just waiting to be discovered.

One I felt that I had to share was from Mike Sansome over at ConverStations – in his post, Is Your blog simply marketing insurance?. He starts with such an important point and commentary all wrapped into one when he says:

We’re hearing more about and from companies launching blogs (good news), and many are doing it because it’s the hot marketing tactic (bad news).

Now perhaps I should focus on the fact that businesses are considering starting a blog and just be content with that – I do work as a business blog consultant after all! But, like Mike, I’m also keen that they are launched for the right reasons and not just because it’s the “latest thing”.

The right reasons will differ from company to company but they need to be thought through and decided upon before they start. By taking that extra bit of time to plan, the blog has 10 times more chance of being a success and delivering the sort of business results that companies are looking for.

This was actually the point I made as my contribution in Ted Demopoulos’ latest book “What no-one ever tells you about Blogging and Podcasting“. As I wrote there, I always advocate asking yourself (and answering) 3 key questions before starting a blog:

  • What is the blog looking to achieve?

  • Who is the blog aimed at?

  • What results are you looking for?

In an ideal world, these would form the basis of a blog strategy (scary thought, I know) and at the very least they need to be considered and written down before diving headfirst into the blogging unknown.

Blogging may be hot and may produce great results but that doesn’t come from simply installing WordPress or setting up your Typepad account. Rather it comes from the planning you do before that and the work that you put in after.

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No, not being offensive – just taking a stroll back down memory lane to my days as a linguist and in particular my Latin classes.

The word Amateur actually comes from the latin amatorem (nom. amator) meaning lover, from the verb amare meaning to love. And one of the key elements that you really need to have as a blogger is a love or a passion for the subject that you are writing about. If you dont have this, then it will certainly show through in your writing

Passion can make a real difference to how you communicate your message. Next time you are discussing something with friends, take a moment to look around and youll quickly spot who is truly interested in the subject. Youll see it in their body language, in the way that they speak, the words they use and how they interact with others. At the end of the day, they stand out and thats what we want to do when we write a blog.

Even in business blogging, particularly when it comes to niche business areas, we need to communicate both our knowledge and our passion for what we are writing about – both will be factors which influence and attract our readers. As a blogger, if you are not passionate about your subject, then you cant realistically expect your readers to be. However, if you can get across your enthusiasm, then that can really be infectious.

Of course, when we communicate in writing, and particularly online, we have to rely mainly on the words and language that we use. That doesnt necessarily mean that we have to spend more time poring over every comma and full stop, though. Very often something written spontaneously conveys our enthusiasm and the message we want to get across so much better.

So to really get your message across when you blog, communicate with passion even if it does make you an amateur!

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