May 2007

ebay buys StumbleUponMore movement in the social bookmarking arena as yesterday ebay confirmed that they had moved in to buy StumbleUpon for a valuation of $75 million.

Quite where the synergies are is yet to be revealed, but it is interesting to see the moves into this area by the big boys, perhaps hitching a ride on a growing bandwagon? There was of course the much bigger move in this arena by Yahoo at the end of 2005 when they bought and no doubt there will be others in the wings.

As far as StumbleUpon goes, well there have certainly been lots of developments since I first stumbled across it (sic!) about a year ago – I was then recommended to have another look at it by Des Walsh earlier this year and certainly the functionality has advanced a great deal as have the number of subscribers using the system.

By way of a test, I am also trying a small experiment by marketing through them – specific pages are shown to people expressing an interest in the areas I nominate and a “per view” payment is made. You can also specify people your site is shown to by geographic region and age which allows better targeting. So far no-one has gone on to explore my site further having “Stumbled Upon” it or taken up any of the calls to action, but I’ll keep monitoring and report back.

All in all, interesting moves afoot and I foresee an early start in ebay pushing traffic StumbleUpon’s way.

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

I see so many blogs that are clearly well thought out in terms of their content and seem to have a lot of things going for them which then go and spoil it by plastering Google AdWords adverts or other onpage advertising all over their blog.

Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against onpage advertising per se – it’s a perfectly good way of developing revenue from a blog, albeit one that is seeing diminishing returns for those who are merely “dabbling” with it, rather than looking at it as a business activity.

Planning and Goals
Once again, it comes down to the planning process and your blog’s goals. If you are looking to have a blog which has a primary goal of using onpage advertising to generate revenue, then of course you are going to make best use of the key areas on your blog and populate them with suitable advertising banners and links.

If, however, you are using a blog to promote your business and develop relationships with your clients, then this advertising is likely to be both distracting and detrimental to your activities. In addition, the advertising needs to be prominent to work well and so will need to occupy the space that you would otherwise use for elements of your own business that you want to promote. Basically, you will be using your blog’s key areas to market somebody else’s products rather than your own!

Change of Mentality
It also changes your mentality when you write and promote your blog. If you are writing a blog which is strictly focused on your specialism and your industry, then creating content which will be of interest to this type of reader will be your main concern, no matter what size of market this represents.

However, the general strategy behind a successful onpage advertising campaign is always going to be a numbers game, therefore the more visitors you attract the greater the number of clicks you will achieve. This means that you are more likely to be looking at posts with a wider appeal or perhaps more contentious ones which will attract more attention … but for attention’s sake. Equally, your blog promotional strategy will need to be focused more on quantity of visitors rather than on quality, again distracting you from targeting readers who would be most beneficial to your own business.

So, overall, if you are intending to use onpage advertising and are serious about doing so, then make that the focus of your blog following all the principles of placement and use of key “real estate” areas that we have discussed elsewhere in this series. However, if your business blog is intended to develop additional contacts and marketing opportunities, then avoid distracting your readers with adverts for other people’s products and concentrate on helping them discover your own.

If you intend to use onpage advertising then make it the focus of your blog – if not, then avoid it !

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SEO - Title TagThere has been a recent revision to a report which first made an appearance last year, where 37 of the finest minds in the SEO arena were asked to appraise the various elements which can be used as part of a Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) programme – White Hat SEO programme, of course.

Their opinions and comments were recorded and distributed in Search Engine Ranking Factors V2 which is probably the most comprehensive report of its type in terms of listing and appraising individual factors that I have seen. In any case, particularly given the people involved, it is certainly something to take a careful look at as you embark on any type of optimisation of your blog.

So what is the most important?

The element which was given the greatest value overall, and hence considered the most important individual factor in SEO terms, was Keyword Use in Title Tag.

The Title Tag is used in two principal areas:

  • when you are using a browser, it is what appears in the blue bar right at the top of your screen and tells the reader what is contained within the page;
  • Secondly, on the Search Engine Results page (SERPs), it forms the link that you click on to reach the page shown in the results.

As a result, not only is it valuable in terms of Search Engine rankings but also in terms of the click throughs that you get. Why is that? Since it appears in the main Search Engine Results page, it can act as an attention grabbing headline for the person conducting the search.

Creating a “good” Title Tag

Ideally, you should be aiming to create a Title Tag that will attract the attention of both human readers and the Search Engines – this means that it is likely to be both marketing focused as well as keyword rich. Sounds good in theory, but in practice you are likely to veer more towards one “audience” than the other.

Opinions vary, but a good rule of thumb is that you have about 8 – 10 words (circa 60 – 65 characters) that you can use effectively in the title tag, so it’s best to make use of them. As a result, you should look to try to:

  • include your keyword / keyword phrase for the page – ideally, focus primarily on these keywords and avoid too many “the” and “and” connectors

  • rather than full sentences, consider using “|” or “-” to break up the phrases (but do remember that it needs to attract your readers too!);

  • include the important terms at the start of the Title Tag, as they seem to carry more “weight” than those at the end;

  • every Title Tag should be distinct and focused – each page and each post is different and so the Title Tag it uses should reflect this.”

In blogs, the Title Tag is usually generated automatically using the title of the post and the title of the blog. This isn’t necessarily going to best suit your purposes so you may like to consider ways of modifying this – you could alter the template itself or you may find the tools below helpful.

Tools to help you

Firstly, a page which I think expands well on the themes that I have mentioned here is Best Practices for Title Tags over at Seomoz and is well worth studying.

As for tools to help with the actual implementation, if you are using WordPress, then in my opinion, the best option is the SEO Title Tag plugin by Stephan Spencer, who certainly knows what he’s doing when it comes to SEO. This gives you full rein to do what you want with a fully customised Title Tag option, as well as an improved default Title Tag as well.

For those who have strayed down the Blogger route, then these two articles, Control your Title Tags in Blogger and Changing the Blogger Title Tag seem to cover two options (though I haven’t tried them personally) while Rank better in Google bay adding dynamic title tags to your Typepad blog seems to cover a possible solution for Typepad users.


So there you have it – the SEO elite confirm that they believe that the Title Tag is the SEO element that will do most for your Search Engine Ranking. One word of warning though (other than the fact that the Search Engine “goalposts” keep moving, so keep on your toes!) – if the content on your page doesn’t deliver, then the best Title Tag in the world will not help you. So before dedicating hours to creating great Title Tags, I’d always recommend paying just as much attention to the content it describes. :)

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Don't be an expert blogger... just be an expert who blogs.

I cant be sure, but I have a sneaky suspicion that there are a number of people who start a professional blog not so much because they are looking for any business benefits or to inform, but rather because they want to be able to say that they are a “Blogger”.

This really is looking at blogging back to front. Their focus should be to show themselves to be an expert in their field who communicates this expertise through the medium of a blog, rather than portray themselves as a blogger who writes on a particular subject area. It might seem like a mute point, but to me this is an important distinction which really affects how blogging works as a business tool.

As a reader, I dont go out specifically searching for bloggers to read, what I do is look for people writing with authority on a subject that interests me. For example, I invariably read Jonathan Schwartzs blog, and I do so because of my interest in what he writes about in his position as CEO of Sun Microsystems, not in his role as a “CEO Blogger”. It is what he has to say about the company and the industry from his position of influence that draws me back and makes me read what he has to say.

For him, his blog has given him the chance to communicate with a huge audience and receive comments and feedback directly without the filters of management or the PR department. For me, it has allowed me unprecedented access to what a leading figure in an industry of interest to me has to say.

Equally, someone like Brian Carroll at B2B Lead Generation Blog is an expert in increasing sales leads in a complex sale. Thats his specialism and the one that he writes about in his blog. Or Thomas Mahon of English Cut fame a Savile Row tailor who writes a blog to market his skills (and his suits). Both have very different and wildly successful blogs which are based upon their expert knowledge in their field which they have chosen to market through a blog.

In the same way, when a lawyer, accountant, recruitment consultant, real estate agent etc. decides to use blogs to support their business, they do not immediately undertake a magical metamorphosis from service professional to blogger, they simply engage in a great communications method. And, closer to home, when I play tennis, Im not suddenly transformed into a tennis player (believe me, I have many people wholl back me up on this one), Im just someone who plays tennis.

So, while I recognise there are skills to learn if you want to blog well, my advice to professionals intending to start a blog is not to do so to get a “Blogger badge” but instead focus on showing your expertise in your field and let that shine through in your blog rather than allow yourself to fade into the masses as a blogger who merely writes on a particular subject.

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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.

Who says blogging’s not journalism?
An interesting take on the alleged conflict between bloggers and journalists in the wake of the Engadget / Apple memo issue.

Blogging is a conversation not a code
A short article from Mike Butcher on the attempts to create a Bloggers code while referring back to the concept that blogging is about conversations.

Avis rolls out blog site
Avis has decide to set up and run a blog to support their customer service efforts – at last someone else is listening (about this use for blogging, I mean!!). Lots more posts to come on this!

Blogosphere threatened by Google downtime
It may not sound a lot, but in my book part of the reason why Blogger is never going to be the best choice for a business / corporate blog.

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Measuring the results of your blogPlanning a blog and then spending both time and effort on creating and developing it is all well and good but, as a business, we are looking to see results which warrant this outlay.

Effectively, we have a business and marketing tool which has a focus, a target audience and a business aim it also has costs attached to it, often principally in terms of time, which need to be justified. Like all marketing activity, we are looking for a return on our investment and to calculate this, we need to measure how successful our blog has been for us.

This is turn raises the question of what criteria we should be using to determine this. There are a number of people who have written on the subject, perhaps the most prominent of which is Charlene Li at Forrester with their report at the start of the year but here we are probably looking above and beyond the methods generally available to most organisations. There are also a number of intangibles that could be considered such as branding and profile development, but they are perhaps less relevant to a small business and even harder to measure effectively.

However, that doesn’t mean that there is no way of identifying the results of a blog. On the contrary. However, first we need to decide what we are going to measure – here the criteria should reflect the main objectives that we set out for the blog.

Some of the potential methods to evaluate these are:

  • Visitors: you might consider that it is the number of new or repeat visitors to your blog because this displays the attractiveness of the blog in terms of content and will develop the community element;

  • Comments: it could be the number of comments that you receive on your posts because you are looking to achieve a certain level of interaction with readers and develop more 2 way conversations;

  • Subscribers: the number of subscribers to your RSS feed may be important because you feel this best shows active interest from your readers and allows you to start to tacitly market to them;

  • Links: the number of blogs and websites which link to your blog or refer to your articles via trackbacks because the interest levels of other bloggers is important from a viral marketing perspective ;

  • Sign-ups: the number of sign ups to a newsletter which you may have as your main marketing call to action on the blog and which will allow you to develop in terms of a subscriber list;

  • Prospects: the number of new potential customers who get in contact through the contact form on your Blog (or special links) because you are looking for new client introductions;

  • Clients and Sales: while not a direct sales tool, the blog’s end goal is often to generate additional business, either as a direct or as an indirect result of our efforts. So measure it where possible;

  • Reduced Marketing Spend: the reduction in Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) and Pay Per Click (PPC) spend because of the search engine benefits that a blog brings.

As you can see, there are a number of different methods we can use and so it is a case of deciding which is the most appropriate according to the aims we had for the blog. This is likely to be a mix of a number of the ones mentioned above but a suitable combination will give an appropriate idea of the level of results that the blog has achieved.

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David Meerman Scott has just launched his latest book, The New Rules of Marketing & PR, and judging by the previous things that I have read written by him, as well as when I’ve heard him speak, then it will be well worth a read.

At the same time, it’s great to see David practising what he preaches. In launching and promoting his book, he has created a list of individuals and bloggers who appear in the book (myself included it seems) and has then linked to them from the post announcing the book’s release. This has created an initial viral effect as many (as I have done in this post) have mentioned the book on their own blogs which of course starts the ball rolling and “spreads the word” further afield.

I will be doing a review of the book (more…)

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

RSS is a key element of blogs and for their successful use in business it is also one of the 5 Rs that I consider to be key to business blogging. This is primarily because of the enormous benefits of what is effectively an instant and very efficient method of distributing information, as well as a great marketing tool.

For publishers, RSS should really have a similar importance as an newsletter sign up box because it gives you the same opportunity to communicate with people who have expressed an interest in what you have to offer. The added benefit is of course that you have an assured method of delivery which is not hampered by email filters and the like.

If gaining loyal readers (and hence subscribers) to your blog is important – and let’s face it, it is to 95% of business bloggers – then it’s important to consider where it appears on your blog design. Higher up the screen and certainly above the fold is clearly going to be better, though this needs to be balanced with the other elements that you wish to promote – however, if RSS subscriptions is a key aim, then get that up at the top, big and bold.

Remember that there is also no need to restrict yourself to a single feed – if you are writing material which is has very distinct areas, then use the capability to set up an RSS feed for each category and promote them individually. Let your readers decide which parts they want to receive, they’ll appreciate that more than having to filter out the elements they want, particularly if you are a prolific writer.

Other things that you should consider to encourage signups from your blog are:

  • Use Feedburner to optimise your RSS usage: I’m a great fan of Feedburner because they offer a number of services which allow you to increase the usability and marketing potential of your RSS Feed – I outline some of those in this post about Feedburner.Give yourself the best chance of using RSS - sign up to Feedburner.

  • Use a Giveaway to encourage Subscriptions: Taking a leaf out of email subscription good practice, use a giveaway to encourage sign ups to your RSS feed. Its sensible and it works! How to do it though? Well, using Feedburner, you can create a custom FeedFlare which links back to a download page on your site. Still unsure? contact me here!
  • Email subscription to RSS: even for readers who are not familiar with RSS, you can make sure that they can still benefit from the instant access that RSS offers by offering them a subscription via email. There are 3rd party services which allow you to do this such as Feedblitz or the email subscription service from Feedburner.
  • Link from each post: to cater for readers who arrive at your posts directly, encourage readers at the bottom of each post to sign up for the RSS feed. This can be done directly, or if you are a WordPress user, this can be done through a plugin such as Subscribe Remind.
  • Highlight Feed Readers: you may like to consider using the little chicklets highlighting the different Feed readers that people could be using to receive your feed. Don’t go overboard (there are more important things you can have in your sidebar) but you could benefit from using some.

One final thing to reiterate is that promoting your RSS in your blog design is no good without the content behind it – it is easy to unsubscribe so that puts the onus on you, the writer, to make sure you give content that they’ll want to come back to read. The inimitable Hugh McLeod summed this up beautifully in one of his cartoons, which is what I leave you with.

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Landing PagesWhether you use a blog as part of your company marketing strategy or it is your only online presence, youll no doubt be looking to promote your blog as widely as possible.

Unfortunately, much like normal websites, it is not simply a case of build and they will come there are, however, lots of ways to encourage visitors and readers, some of which are outlined in the
52 methods of blog promotion.

Consider Landing Pages

Whichever ways you choose, I would encourage you to also adopt one of the key elements of successful online marketing and develop specific relevant landing pages to complement the marketing. In case you are wondering, a landing page is the page on your blog that visitors arrive at after clicking on your promotional creative, whether that is a Pay Per Click advert, email marketing link, magazine or newspaper advert or a Word of Mouth recommendation.

You should make the page completely relevant to the keyword phrases they have been searching on in the case of Pay Per Click advertising or the subject matter of the promotion – effectively, your first goal is to reassure the reader that the page (and by implication your blog and company) really does provide what they are searching for.

This is equally effective when you are marketing offline, perhaps in magazines or at seminars, as you can create individual landing pages which offer information which is going to be relevant to these groups – then just provide them with this URL rather than your homepage.

What are your aims?

A landing page needs to be focused not only on where your reader has come from but also very clearly on what you want them to do and where you want them to go as a result of reading it. There are a number of different options which are nicely summarised by Seth Godin as follows:

  • Get a visitor to click (to go to another page, on your site or someone else’s)

  • Get a visitor to buy

  • Get a visitor to give permission for you to follow up (by email, phone, etc.). This includes registration of course.

  • Get a visitor to tell a friend

  • Get a visitor to learn something, which could even include posting a comment or giving you some sort of feedback

The information that you decide to have on each specific landing page and how you build the page will depend on what you want to achieve with it. The whole page should point to the “call to action” that you are looking to achieve, but at the same time should motivate your readers by showing them the value in it. It that means using a “giveaway” as a taster then do that too.

Creating the Landing Page

You could use a highly relevant single post or, more appropriately, a category page, with a specific sticky post at the top to make sure that you press home your message. Lets face it, posts on business blogs will tend to be specific and focused on a particular subject or subject area.

However, to get the developed landing page we outlined above then ideally you should create one which is tailor made for the job. If you are using WordPress, then this is very straightforward just create a page (rather than posts) which sits outside the chronological structure of the blog and link directly to that. With other systems, you should be able to use the same functionality that you use to create your About page .

In terms of content, try answering these questions as you create each landing page:

  • What benefit am I offering? (may be more appropriate than what service or product)

  • What specific group of people do I want to appeal to?

  • 5 reasons why they would be interested in what I have to offer?

  • What do they need to do to take the next step? (ie. subscribe, buy etc)

It is helps, you could consider that each landing page is really a summary of all the pages covering the product or service you are offering which needs to be motivational and persuasive without being hyped.

So to summarise – I’m not suggesting that we start to turn our business blog into purely a direct sales tool. Far from it. However, the blog is a business tool and we should use it to develop connections and new opportunities as best we can to support the marketing activities we employ to promote it and our business. Astute use of landing pages will help to achieve this.

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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.

Metro UK Blog Awards
The results from the Metro awards in the 8 categories they deemed worthy – no business blog category … but then I’ve mentioned that before, haven’t I? :)

Businesses urged to embrace web’s social side
It’s all about conversations and listening to your customers … I’ll add to that and say that business blogging is also about connections.

Users increasingly influenced by negative search results
Remember that blogs can also be used to turn negative comments into positive PR - I guess that’s not newsworthy or maybe people just don’t realise this potential.

DVD row sparks user rebellion
A 21st Century revolt and the way that blogging and social networking is aiding it and at the same time dealing with it.

Bloggers and Podcasters in print
Luckily the magazine appears online and as a podcast as well as in print – would be a bit ironic if it didn’t! Let’s see how it develops.

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