April 2007

Flora London MarathonLast weekend, once again I watched the London Marathon and, once again, felt hugely inspired by those people taking part.

I was inspired at two levels: firstly, by the thousands of people who were taking part in the Marathon for a thousand individual reasons to achieve personal goals or to do something for others by raising money for charity. And I was also inspired by the athletes in the Elite races, for the most part professionals now, who were competing for the top honours and to win the race itself. Incredible talent, work and commitment.

It is this mix that, for me, makes the London Marathon and the other major city marathons around the world events like no others as they bring together runners of all abilities, with differing motivations, goals and expectations then giving them a place to express this.

I am compelled to say that, albeit in a very different way, the blogosphere offers similar opportunities.

How so? Well …

  • The mix of bloggers for starters. There are expert bloggers – the so called ‘A’ List bloggers – who are trailblazers in many respects and have shown us the way that blogs can be used. There are also those who earn a living from blogging and of course the many millions that write, with varying success, either from a business or personal perspective.

  • People blog for many different reasons – these may stem from the desire to publish their thoughts and raise their profiles in the case of personal bloggers, through to corporate blogs intended to develop prospects, partnerships and sales.

  • Both require Planning and Preparation – to be successful, the hours of practice that the runner puts in is mirrored by the conscientious blogger spending time in researching, writing and publicising their blogs.

  • Cooperation and mutual help is the name of the game – there is an attitude of cooperation that seems to exist between bloggers which is mirrored in the way that they reference and support each other through linking, advice etc. I saw the same community spirit in the marathon with runners encouraging others and helping them to finish.

  • Enthusiasm: blogging is all about expertise and authenticity in my opinion and, at the core of that, is the enthusiasm you need to be dedicated enough to make a real go of blogging, whatever your aims.

  • Practice makes perfect – knowledge and reputation grows over time, so it is likely that a blogger will need to persevere to make an impact and gain the respect of their readers and peers.

As a result, I believe that the analogy is valid and that the diversity, dedication, commitment and enthusiasm that I witnessed last Sunday is also present in the blogosphere, demonstrated by those who wish to take the medium seriously and/or use it for their own ends.

It was also a useful reminder, as I close off both this analogy and the comparison, that developing and running a successful blog is much more akin to participating in a marathon than it is to running a sprint.

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Spotlight on UK Blogs - all postsNow back again on Better Business Blogging, each 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!

Simon Wakeman
Like the man says on his blog, we’re looking here at marketing, public relations and digital communications. Great content with a clean and impactful feel to the blog so take a moment to check it out and sign up to that RSS!

Informed Choice
Always a bit of a pity to see a blog with good information and insight on a Blogger template but ‘hey’ ... good looking financial advice here (hopefully sound advice too!) which also nicely supports the main Informed Choice site.

Book Mark Lee
Nicely put together site with the aim of “Helping ambitious professionals achieve business goals” which seems like a suitably ambitious goal in itself! Yet one that Mark looks eminently able to achieve.

Simon Dickson
Repleat with “Simons” today and here’s another one who is well worth listening to! Interesting, varied and eminently readable. Picture reminds me of the “Wot no …!” cartoons I used to draw as a child – sorry, Simon! ;)

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Spam Comments and how to stop themIt seems that no matter what new online communication tools we come up with, there are going to be those who want to abuse them. Let’s face it, email has revolutionised the way in which businesses and individuals communicate (and the genuine commercial opportunities it offers) but has also been notoriously blighted over recent years by the avalanche of spam messages we also receive.

Likewise, blogs are open to abuse from individuals looking to exploit them at the expense of others, primarily through the use of Spam Blogs (Splogs) and Comment Spam. For now, let’s concentrate on Comment Spam and see why it exists and how we can go about stopping it on our blogs.

What is Comment Spam?

Comment Spam is where a spammer leaves comments on blog posts that have nothing to do with the post itself but merely contain multiple links back to the spammer’s commercial website. Most Comment Spam is now carried out automatically rather than by individuals and its goal is simply to create links back to a target site (and so improve its Search Engine ranking), though it may also attract a small amount of traffic as well.

If the contents of my Comment Spam filter is at all representative, then the subject matter will be familiar to all of us using email, since the same types of subjects and messages tend to crop up in both.

How do we stop Comment Spam on our own blog?

So what are our options when it comes to avoiding having comment spam swamping our blogs, other than turning off comments all together of course – something that I’m certainly not advocating!

  • Comment Moderation
    The most time consuming way is simply to moderate out all of the spam comments – that is to say, you look at each comment which has been left and allow genuine ones to appear on your blog while deleting the spam comments. This can become very time consuming (not to mention frustrating!) because once you are “found” by the spam commenters, you are going to be receiving a lot of these. Rule of thumb – the more successful you are, the easier you are to find and the more you will receive – I imagine with such a high profile blog, Darren Rowse over at ProBlogger suffers more than most, as he comments here.

  • CAPTCHA methods
    CAPTCHA is actually an acronym (ok, since you asked – Completely Automated Public Turing test to tell Computers and Humans Apart – there, now wasn’t that interesting!) but you’ll know it as a distorted series of letters and numbers which appear on the page and that you have to type in. This is designed to prove that you are a human and not an automated visitor – or, in this case, spammer. Typed in correctly, it allows you to submit your comment, but will stop most forms of automated comment spam getting through.

  • Specialist Software Intervention
    Just like with email, there are also providers of specialist software which can help us and here, in my opinion, the leader in this respect is called Akismet. Here, the software identifies the comments that it believes are spam and impounds them – it’s also provided free of charge, except for commercial use, which is an additional bonus. Although it was developed by the company involved with WordPress, it has been modified to work with many other types of blog software so it’s worth checking out. Another plug-in for WordPress is Spam Karma which also comes highly recommended.

  • Getting commenters to log-in
    You can of course elect to only accept comments from people that have already logged in to a registration system which you run on your blog – this way you can be fairly sure that they will be leaving real comments because you have effectively “pre-vetted” them.

Which method is the best?

All of the methods above work well from a functional level and will help to avoid the vast majority of comment spam from arriving in your posts. Therefore, when deciding which method to use, I was personally swayed by the impact that it would have on readers wanting to leave genuine comments. Basically, I wanted to make sure that it was as easy as possible for them to do so.

Therefore, I elected to go down the specialist software route which has no impact on readers leaving comments and nothing additional for them to do – I therefore use Akismet on my blogs and those that I set-up for the businesses and individuals I work with. The results? Well, so far so good. It stops 95% of spam and also learns from all the blogs using it, so keeps up with (if not stays ahead of) the comment spammers and their methods. Overall, a big thumbs up from me.

BTW - to make sure that you have all the information at your finger tips to make your own decision, no matter which blog platform you use, I’ll be doing a second post on the subject of comment spam next week where I will try to lay out the different options available for each platform. In the meantime, any thoughts you’d like to share on what has worked for you, then please leave a comment – a real one preferably! :)

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A to Z of Business BloggingThis a series of posts entitled the A to Z of Business Blogging which take a look at the some of the elements and benefits of company blogs or corporate blogs.

A is for Archives

A blog’s archives are effectively anywhere that posts are stored once they disappear from the blog’s front page. The two main areas which I consider as archive areas are the “Archives” themselves where the posts can be found according to the date they were published and “Categories” where the posts are kept according to the subject matter that they deal with. Both of these are organised so that they are easy to use for your readers and help posts to be easily indexed by the Search Engines – for both these reasons, they are very important.

The archives in a blog, whatever their format, are also particularly helpful to the author because they are self-organising – this allows us to focus on the posts and the message that we want to communicate rather than worry about the structuring of the blog. The Archives are usually organised by month (though some systems do so weekly) while we have control over the naming of the Categories. This of course allows us to include the main keywords that we wish to focus on as well as making them descriptive.

But don’t just leave it to the automatic archives to promote the posts that have disappeared from the front page – make sure that you promote your own posts from within your blog as well as encouraging other blogs to link to them as well. To help this:

  • Highlight your most popular posts: make sure that the best or most popular posts you have written are not lost in your archives, so highlight them by linking from a separate page or from your sidebar. A “Top 10 of your Best Posts” is always going to get good results and encourage additional readers;

  • Link to related posts: at the end of a post, link to other posts on your blog which cover similar topics which might interest them. You can do this automatically within WordPress or manually with a little effort – but it’s well worthwhile;

  • Write a Series: By writing a series of posts on a topic, you will have the opportunity to interlink all of the posts and so encourage your readers to make sure that they read all the posts in the series;

  • Link from within posts: you should reference and link to your own posts as well as posts on other blogs or websites when you want to add weight to what you are writing about.

Whichever way you decide to go about it, use the blog’s archives to your own advantage for both readers and Search Engines alike. However, at the same time, make sure that you don’t leave your posts to simply disappear into your archives – work with your archives and keep the posts they contain as accessible and active as possible.

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Blogging in the News - UK Blogs
Some articles which have appeared in the UK online press over the past week which looks at blogging (primarily business blogging) and its uses. If you find any good articles that could be highlighted here, then please post the links below or send them to me directly at mark[at]betterbusinessblogging[dot]com and I’ll do the rest.

Advantages and risks for corporate bloggers
Lots of talk about risks of blogging (has no-one heard of Blogging Policies?) but here nicely balanced with the advantages that businesses can gain.

Employee blogs a potential legal minefield
Like I said, lots of talk about the risks of blogging – while overblown here, make sure that you are covered in the same way that you should be regarding information sent in emails, which can also be used from a legal perspective.

O’Reilly reverses call for blog code of conduct
2nd part of a recent debate around whether there should be a Code of Conduct for blogs or not – looks like the person who suggested it is backtracking somewhat here. But it’s an interesting question, so …

Blogging boom continues as world of weblogs grows
An overview from BigMouth Media about the latest “State of the Blogosphere” release from Technorati.

Power of the secret policeman’s blog
A UK Bobby blogging anonymously about life in the force much in the way that “MiniMicrosoft” does and showing blogging as the important medium that it has become.

British Blog Awards 07: the shortlist
There’s a particularly short list for the Best Business Blogs … mainly because they haven’t got a category for them in the UK Awards! Mind you there is a panel of “celebrity judges”, so that’s ok, I suppose …

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Spotlight on UK Blogs - all postsNow back again on Better Business Blogging, each 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!

NRG Business Network
With business networks becoming all the rage, here’s a blog from one that stands out from the crowd organising business networking lunches and written by its two founders Dave Clarke and Martin Davies. Would be perfect as an integrated blog on their main site!

Can Do Can Be Inspirations
Written by Karen Skidmore, a business and life coach, primarily for women running home based businesses here in the UK but well worth a read for anyone running their own small business and looking for helpful and valid advice

Trades Union Aggregator
The Network for Trade Union blogs and bloggers here in the UK - a whole range of blogs across the Trades Union spectrum.

Nick Saalfeld’s Corporate Podcasting
One of those “does what it says on the tin” moments – it’s all about podcasting for businesses and corporates, and it’s written by Nick Saalfeld. Important area dealt with at multiple levels.

Gavin Ingham
Slightly ironic (since you aren’t supposed to sell on blogs) but this is nevertheless a nicely put together blog from Sales Trainer / Motivational Speaker Gavin Ingham.

Truly Ace
Design gone right if you see what I mean! A recently started blog from an excellent graphic designer – will certainly be interesting to see how it develops. Love the portfolio!

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Business Blog Design Series[This is part of a series following on from a post called “Business Blog Design“]

I realise that this might be verging on a bit of an obsession with me, but I dislike standard generic blog templates with a passion. Just to clarify, these are the templates that are supplied as standard with the blogging software – one such example is the basic Kubrick template that comes with WordPress.

It’s not that they are bad as such because they’re not. The trouble is that they aren’t going to help the aims of your business blog very much either and, in certain circumstances, they will actually hinder your goals.

So what are the main reasons for avoiding the generic templates and making sure that you use a more bespoke one for your business blog?

  • Differentiate yourself – to run a successful business blog, you will need to spend time setting up and writing your blog. Let the look and feel of your blog support and promote your posts and help to differentiate them;

  • Avoid looking like a splog: “splogs” are “spam blogs” which are most often created automatically and, because of this, use the basic template that the software is supplied with. You only have a few seconds to attract a new visitor to your site so make sure you don’t give the wrong first impression;

  • Show that you care: don’t hamper the good work that you are putting into other aspects of your blog by displaying a lack of care and effort in how it looks. You want others to care about what you are writing about so show that you do as well;

  • Optimise your Information: generic templates will never optimise the information in your blog to make the most of what you are writing. To use your content properly, select the right software and then getting your template working for you;

  • Highlight your important elements: you need to use your blog layout to promote and highlight the elements which are most important to your business – get a template which displays your sign up box and your special promotions in the prime positions.

Ideally, get a blog design which is going to fit with the aims and requirements of your company and what you want to achieve with your blog. If not, then at least choose a template which appeals to you and work with it to achieve your business objectives.

Make sure that your blog template supports your business goals and so avoid the generic templates your software comes with!

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I’ll admit that usually I’m not a fan of lists, hence you won’t find many long ones here at Better Business Blogging. However, when they are recommended by people like Brian Clark at CopyBlogger or Darren Rowse at Problogger then who am I to argue?

Although I have presented this as a single list, there are really three distinct groups of techniques that I would recommend that you consider in here – firstly what I would call “Blog methods”, then the more general online marketing methods and of course offline marketing and PR techniques. We’ll be looking at all of these on an ongoing basis at The Blog Coach.

In the meantime, here are 52 Great Ways to market your blog:

  1. Submit your site to the main web directories – you�ll find a good list at Directory Maximiser

  2. Make sure that the whole of your blog is indexed on the main Search Engines such as Google, Yahoo and MSN/Live

  3. Get a Google Sitemap on your blog to help to get it fully indexed

  4. Participate in online business networking sites such as Linked In, eCademy and SoFlow

  5. Make it easy for your readers to bookmark your blog on the social bookmarking sites such as Digg, Del.icio.us, Furl etc.

  6. Make sure you submit your blog to the main Blog directories (Good list here and here)

  7. Also submit your blog to the main RSS directories

  8. Ensure that you automatically ping the main blog Search Engines and Directories suach as Technorati and IceRocket to get instantly indexed – good list of pinging addresses

  9. Join a number of relevant online communities or discussion groups for your market area

  10. Maximise the design of your own blog: highlight posts or subjects that will attract and retain readers

  11. Add comments – relevant, useful comments – to other people�s threads or blogs

  12. Use Pay per Click (PPC) advertising like Google Adwords or Yahoo Search Marketing

  13. Advertise on sites such as Gumtree or Craigslist

  14. Make sure that you run an ezine (e-newsletter) alongside your blog and make the two work together

  15. Make sure that you link out to other blogs in your blog posts and, for special recommended blogs, in your BlogRoll

  16. Join MyBlogLog to be able to make contact with other MyBlogLog users and develop relationships

  17. Set up a social network part of your blog with Ning

  18. Write your own e-book (perhaps using content from your blog) and give away free chapters to encourage visitors or subscribers

  19. Start your own meme or viral networking idea (such as 2000 Bloggers)

  20. Attend local networking groups such as BNI, BRE etc – tell them about what you do and reference your blog

  21. Set up and develop a profile on online social networking sites such as MySpace, Bebo etc.

  22. Create a free account on BT Tradespace

  23. Interview people for your own regular podcast – perhaps you could make it like your own online radio show

  24. Contact other relevant ezines and offer to write articles for them

  25. Submit your articles to article directories (Ezine Articles, Article Alley etc.)and link to your blog in the signature

  26. Submit your own ezine to ezine directories such as Ezine Directory or Best Ezines

  27. Include podcasts as part of your blog to distribute interviews, informational pieces etc.

  28. Convert some of your existing articles into podcasts

  29. Create a lense at Squidoo

  30. Distribute and syndicate your articles and podcasts via your RSS feed

  31. Offer free white papers or specialist documents which are branded with your blog and RSS details

  32. Set up teleconferences or teleseminars focusing on your main content areas

  33. Write a review of books on Amazon.com linking back to your blog

  34. Distribute press releases via online news services such as PR Web or Press Box

  35. Add a poll or survey to your blog and post/distribute the results – try SurveyGizmo if you are a WordPress user

  36. Read other blogs and leave your own comments on them

  37. Use trackbacks when you reference other bloggers� posts

  38. Create podcasts of your best posts and syndicate them, as well as submitting them to iTunes and other podcast directories

  39. Sign up to Feedburner and include the Headline Animator in your email signature and the one you use when you post to forums

  40. Make sure you include your blog address on your business cards and company stationery

  41. Customise and improve your RSS Feed using Feedburner – include special offers, sign up opportunities and make sure the feed delivers the full post

  42. Increase RSS feed sign ups by offering a sign up bonus to subscribers – how? Just ask!

  43. Offer readers the chance to sign up via email (Feedburner and Feedblitz offer the service

  44. Put files and follow ups to presentations, conferences and seminars on your blog for attendees to read and download

  45. Offer to become a Guest blogger on other blogs and invite Guest bloggers to write on your own blog

  46. Make sure to submit articles to and participate in Blog Carnivals (more on Blog Carnivals here)

  47. Optimise your blog where possible and particularly the Categories, Title Tags and Meta Tags

  48. Participate regularly in conversations on other blogs

  49. Post answers on LinkedIn Answers and Yahoo Answers

  50. Try LinkBaiting using controversial subjects or opinions � be careful though!

  51. Contact the main bloggers in your market area and introduce yourself or send details of a particular post that might interest them

and above all,
52. Write great content that people will want to read, recommend and link to!

What other methods (or which of these methods) do you find work best for you as you promote your Blog? Please share them with us by leaving a comment!

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Business Blog Design Series[This is part of a series following on from a post called “Business Blog Design“]

Making it easy for readers to get around your blog is essential – it’s also very sensible. You put a lot of time and effort into writing your posts, so you want to make sure that they can be found easily and any associated information also highlighted to your blog readers.

As I mentioned in the original article, if you have special elements – these could be promotions, services, products, giveaways etc. – that you are looking to highlight, then these should be positioned accordingly at the top of your blog, above the fold. This will make these elements easy to locate and additional variations to the blog, as they will no doubt vary over time as your business priorities change.

However, the rest of your content also needs to be shown off to best effect! The main methods will be via the individual categories and the archives and, from personal experience, the categories which will be most frequently used, so make sure that they are prominently positioned.

There are some other ways and means that you can include to help encourage people to explore your blog further and therefore allow you to gain maximum benefit from the time that you invested in your posts. Some that you might like to consider are:

Related posts
Link to other posts on your blog which contain information related to the post that they are currently reading they are clearly interested in the topic, so help them find more details about it. In WordPress, you can do this with a plug-in called Related Posts.

Links in your posts
Within your posts, reference other posts on your blog so that you make it easy for people to find them. Just as you should reference other people’s blogs in your posts as sources of additional information, theres no harm in referencing your own as well.

Key posts
You probably have set of key posts (which I call Foundation posts) and which contain information that is key to your services and your business in general – so highlight them, perhaps by creating a list under the heading of “Key information”. If you can’t specifically identify ones, then check your stats package for the posts that attract the most hits or appear most prominently in the Search Engines and then highlight them.

Most Popular posts
Check which posts attract most comments or which have the most visitors (again a plug-in can help WordPress users here) and make sure that they are highlighted so that more people can read and share them. The sidebar is a good place to create this list although you could alternatively make a special page.

Recent Posts
List your last 5 posts in the sidebar thus encouraging people to read your most recent (and possibly most relevant) offerings. You might avoid these on the main blog homepage as they will be visible but is great for individual post pages – a quick modification to your template will allow you to achieve this.

Recent Comments
With blogs being all about communication, show the last few comments in your sidebar so that people can read not only your initial posts but also the comments that your readers have taken the time to leave.

Show Categories in the Post headers
Include the names of the categories that the post appears in alongside the title or at the bottom of the post. It will help people to find other posts which are related and that you have categorised in the same way.

By using these methods, you are giving additional value to your readers by helping them find further information that is relevant to them – at the same time, you are of course promoting more of your own content and so helping the marketing of your blog. As an added bonus, you are also extending the internal linking within your blog which the Search Engines will be pleased to use and give you an extra “plus point” for.

You spend a lot of time creating good content on your blog so make sure that your Blog Design helps and encourages your readers to find it!

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BBC WorldWell it wasn’t a long interview by any means but I made my debut on television today when I appeared on the Business programme on BBC World and on BBC 24 which appears on the mainstream channels here in the UK.

We talked briefly about the great strides that Business Blogging has taken, in the UK particularly over recent months with companies finally showing a greater understanding of the benefits it offers – we also looked at how to use blogging together with the other principal social media marketing tools. It’d be good to see a longer discussion on this important area but it was equally great to see it being addressed at all. This was initiated, I think, by the Blogging4Business conference which took place today in London.

And why am I doubly pleased? Because the BBC found me through this blog using Search Engines followed up by online research – exactly the two areas where I had hoped that the blog would make me more visible. Yet more proof, were proof needed, of the areas that a blog can develop for an individual or company.

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