November 2007


SEO in business blogs for rankingIt is an absolute waste to set up a business blog with the sole intention of using it to enhance your Search Engine rankings. If you do, then you will not only be missing out on the important benefits that blogs offer but also jeopardising the success of your own, right from the word go.

“But I thought a business blog would help my rankings!”, I hear you cry. “Absolutely”, I reply, “it will, enormously so!”

But that’s not the point. Blogs enable you to do so much more, whether you are using them to communicate with your readers, build trust and connections with both customers and prospects alike, carry out market research or customer service, or indeed any of 101 different business uses that they can be put to. And that’s where your focus, effort and attention should be directed, not simply on helping your Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) efforts!

If you do these things correctly and keep the content of your blog focused on what your target audience wants then, believe me, the so called “Google Juice” will flow naturally because of what you write and the way you write and structure it, but as an automatic by-product rather than the sole result.

Ive seen the same issues come to light elsewhere recently as well. I belong to a couple of online business networking organisations and on one of these, Ecademy, there has been a lot of debate recently following Googles last algorithm change. This resulted in the site not delivering page 1 results as regularly as it had previously been prone to do due to its structure and overall page rank. A number of people have commented that there has therefore been a drop in value of the site because of this and have been asking whether it remains worth the subscription.

My response again is that the Google / Search Engine benefits have to be viewed for what they are an excellent by-product which is great to have. However, the reason for joining a site like that is to help foster relationships with other business people and provide networking opportunities. Thats why its called a Business Networking Club rather than a Google Ranking Club. Google juice is great but that cannot be the main reason for your being there or else the networking element will ultimately die, killing the site with it.

And the same is true with blogs. Business blogs are great in providing enhanced Search Engine opportunities but try not to focus too much on those or you risk losing everything. Focus instead on your readers in your blog and I guarantee that your SEO desires and requirements will follow.

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Balance in Blog Writing Ive always been a big advocate of planning your posts on a business blog but I was asked recently whether I felt that this would have the effect of stifling the spontaneity and authentic voice that blogs are supposed to have.

For me, the answer is a categorical no. The issue, as I see it, stems from the belief that the two elements, planning and spontaneity, are diametrically opposed. Theyre not – in fact, they sit very comfortably alongside each other. From a blogging perspective, it’s good to be able to find a balance between the two while, from a business perspective, planning is all important not to stifle spontaneity and creativeness but to channel and focus it.

Think of it like a river

If I could use an analogy here, think of your business blog as a long winding river a river flows in a clear overall direction and has a destination which it moves towards; sometimes it meanders off but ultimately rejoins the main flow of the river and continues back on track. It also has its own boundaries in terms of its banks and encounters obstacles which it has to overcome.

If you can achieve the same with your blog then you are doing well. Keep the blog moving along and focused; also make sure that the goals you outlined when you initially planned it are clear in your mind thats the ‘destination’ you want for your blog. You can go off at tangents where appropriate and display all the spontaneity you like, provided that you return to the main flow of your core topics. There lots of scope for flexibility but ultimately there are boundaries as well which you need to respect.

Plan where you can

So do plan your posts ahead of time where possible:

  • try to outline a week or even a month ahead, at least with some of the main topics and potential post titles that you want to cover;

  • have a themed series ready to go even if you then develop it more later once it is started;

  • make sure that you continue to add to your Foundation posts which will often add most value to the overall blog.

But at the same time when you spot something in your RSS Reader that you feel is important to comment on, then do so. From a publishing point of view, blogs give you an exceptional speed of response, so take the chance to report on breaking news in your industry and voice your opinion on it ahead of your competitors.

As a final key point: dont look at planning as a constraint, think of it more as giving a focus and direction.

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keyword phrase selection for blogsI should say right from the start that you should always write first and foremost for your readers – that’s Rule #1 when it comes to creating a successful blog.

Nevertheless, we shouldn’t forget that a blog is also an important tool in helping our positioning and Search Engine ranking for keyword phrases which are important to us and our business. These may be ones which cover central themes in our blog and our business activities, or they could be targeting areas that we would like to benefit from as part of the “Long Tail” effect that blogs are excellently positioned for.

The key first step is identifying the right keyword phrases is going to be key to our efforts to get better rankings through Search Engine Optimisation. This will allow us to focus our articles at areas which we know will appeal both to our readers and to the Search Engines at the same time. It can also help to achieve a more comprehensive coverage in our chosen area by identifying keyword phrases in adjacent areas that are relevant to what we offer.

To help in this task and find the best keyword phrases, there are a number of tools around and a lot of them are free! In addition to the tools that I have mentioned below, also take the time to check out your competitors’ sites and see what words they are targeting in their Title tag and keyword meta tag (go to View -> Source in Internet Explorer to view these). While not to be directly copied – after all every business is different – they can be a good source of additional information and ideas.

Here are the keyword tools that I have looked at and consider worthwhile.

WordTracker
WordTracker is probably the best known tool in the field and is the self styled Leading Keyword Research Tool. They is a scaled charge for a weekly, monthly or annual subscription as well as a limited free trial, but it is also very complete in what it offers across a number of Search Engines.

Google AdWords: Keyword Tool
The Keyword Tool is built into AdWords but Google have also made it available externally so that you can do some initial research. It gives ideas for new keywords associated with your target phrase but does not indicate relevance or give details of number or frequency of searches

Overture Keyword Selector Tool
This tool is a little dated now (and of course Overture is now rebranded as Yahoo Search Marketing) but there is still validity in checking it out. It returns details of how many searches have been carried out in the Overture engine over the period of a month and allows a drill down into associated keywords containing your keyword phrase as well.

NicheBot
NicheBot has a mix of Wordtracker and Overture based tools as well as a nice keyword analysis tool which focuses on Googles results

Digital Point Keyword Suggestion Tool
One of a set of tools available at the Digital Point website this engine gives search numbers on keywords from Wordtracker and Overture sources

In addition to these, although some of the keyword tools mentioned above already include it, I would also recommend taking a look through a Thesaurus (online or paperback) to open up other avenues. Sometimes you just cant beat going back to basics!

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Blogging in the News - UK BlogsSome 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.

Thousands of bloggers unite in blitz of green tips
The Blog action Day on the 15th October seems to have been a success with thousands of bloggers participating and raising awareness on climate change and environmental issues.

Should blogging be on your marketing to-do list?
I think we know that the answer is yes, but this is a nice gentle introduction to one aspect of how blogs can be used while recognising the range of opportunities they offer.

B2B journalists turn to blogs for info
Another insight into how journalists view blogs and whether they are using then and the information they offer to best effect.

Blogs give business a global reach
While I really can’t recommend then Google Translation tool which suffers from the same shortcomings as other online tools, there are some other good comments here.

Blogging is good for business if you have something to say
Good pieces of advice here from Jim Kendall. Remember that blogging is like talking to people – if you don’t have anything worthwhile to say, it’s often best to keep quiet and listen until you do.

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I’ve mentioned a number of times how important title tags are and how useful they can be (and need to be) in different aspects of search engine optimisation for blogs. So I was glad to see that in one of the first sessions at the recent BlogWorld conference over in Las Vegas, that this subject was covered again by the speakers.

However, as I listened to extracts from the session, there was one element that I picked up and hadn’t considered that was mentioned by Andy Beal from Marketing Pilgrim, and it’s one I’d like to pass on here. But first a little background.

The title of the post (or Post Title) appears at the top of each individual post on the blog, whereas the words which appear at the top of the browser window is the so called Title Tag. Hopefully, the image below will show the distinction between them.

Normally in blogs, there is a close relationship between the two elements because most blog software automatically creates a Title Tag from the title of the post, usually mixing it with the name of the blog something like

“Better Business Blogging >> Title Tags are great”

To an extent this is good because it it gives a distinct and relevant Title Tag for each page (which is positive) and it’s done automatically for us (which saves us time). However, even better is to have control over both elements individually which is where the SEO Title Tag plugin comes into its own if you’re a WordPress user as it disassociates the post title from the title tag.

Anyway, where exactly do these two elements appear :

  • RSS feed – Post Title

  • Blog Search Engines – Post Title

  • Main Search Engine results – Title Tag

  • Search Engine Optimisation – Title Tag (primary) and Post Title (secondary)

Anyway, what is the suggestion? Well, simply to change the title and the title tag after a few days so that you can appeal to the different groups that will be reading them. Basically, different people use the RSS feeds and blog search engines from those who might be searching with the main search engines. So target each.

When you publish your post, use an attention grabbing headline for readers who may find you in amongst their other RSS feeds – often something time related is good and aimed specifically at your readers. But after a few days, you will have been seen by all those who are likely to find you via RSS or Blog Search Engines (which are also time sensitive) so we need to turn our attention to the main search engines. In this case, we need to make sure that we appeal to search engines with keyword phrases that we want to be found with as well as our readers, and this needs to be done in our title tag.

So, as ever, pay attention to the needs and interests of your readers but be savvy enough to know when you have to change your focus to the search engines to give your blog posts even more longevity and ‘findability’.

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Unless we are in a very fortunate position, then when we start a business blog we are likely to be faced with the challenge of how to attract visitors to it, how to encourage them to become readers and then how to build their trust and confidence in us and our blog over time.

This comes through building, developing and of course maintaining a relationship with our blog readers and it’s a process that Ive been trying to represent visually for a while. Recently, I came across something that I feel comes very close while flicking through some books at home and one in particular called How to Succeed as an Independent Consultant which is written by Timothy RV Foster.

In it, I found a diagram and section entitled the ‘Ladder of Goodwill’ which the author had developed to explain the developing relationship a supplier has with its clients. The various rungs on the ladder were described as ranging from ‘Nowhere’ at the start where a customer has no knowledge of you or indeed that you even exist, through to ‘In Position’ where you have the total trust of the customer and you are the primary supplier in your area or field. The goal of course is climb as high as possible up the ladder in your relationship with each of your clients.

For me, I can see a lot of similarities with the way that we have to develop a business blog as well, particularly in the case of a small business or individual where there is not already a significant offline or online presence to act as a springboard.

First of all, it is a case of creating awareness that the blog exists and developing its visibility through marketing or word of mouth, Then you need to get people to come to read it and have their first experience of what you are writing about and what topics you cover. To get a positive first reaction you need to make sure you deliver, ideally every time. Follow up on this by providing something (perhaps a newsletter or white paper) so you have the opportunity to reinforce the first positive experience. Building on this means being consistent in your writing and content thereby encouraging people to recommend your blog to others and share their experience. From there the positive experience can be developed further over time resulting in a loyal reader and, from a business perspective, perhaps a potential future customer as well.

Each rung of the ladder represents another building block as you build a sense of confidence and trust in what you do and, at the same time, you are gaining the active involvement of your readers in your blog and your business.

Of course, for a really active blog, youll be looking to have readers at all levels, hopefully all moving upwards! So how many readers do YOU have on each rung on the ladder?

Ladder of Goodwill diagram is copyright to Timothy R. V. Foster

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Mindmaps for planning business blogsAs you may well have gathered, I’m a great advocate of planning your business blog before you set out and actually write it. It’s also good to keep that development going so that you can keep track of the different subject strands you are working with and allow you to expand them further.

Previously, I’d always done this with pen and paper but have recently started to try something again that I first dabbled with a number of years ago as a student – and no, this is not going to be a politician-like cannabis related admission!

What I’m actually referring to are mindmaps. They work really well in helping to develop different subject areas as well as extending the boundaries of what your blog could be doing for you – all without losing track of the key elements that you want to concentrate on and that your audience is looking for.

Granted they are not for everyone but for someone like myself, who is very visually focused, they are an excellent way to visually represent ideas that you have for your blog and help you to develop them in different directions. And since business blogs need to be focused on and around the main subjects that you want to address, then using this method will allow you take your main subject areas and develop them naturally into adjacent areas. This is turn will help give your coverage of the topic even more scope and breadth.

The mindmap of course does not need to be a static representation of your blog – by its very nature, it’s perfect to be developed as necessary. So as the needs and requirements of your readers expand (or even change) then so can the mindmap and your planning to reflect the additional elements that you need to be considering.

As an example, I’m working through a new series for this blog at the moment on Blog Marketing and using a MindMap to help develop the different strands it should cover (still work in progress of course)

This particular one was created using MindMeister which has an excellent free option as well as the upgrade to their premium and team services. However, even the free version gives you the chance to collaborate with others so if you have multiple authors on your blog then it would be an ideal tool to help co-ordinate input from all of the them and develop ideas for new posts and future direction.

There are a number of online mindmap systems which you could use and a good start point for information is would seem to be MindMapping.org which lists a whole range of these elements as well as a range of other mindmap related resources – well worth checking out.

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How many hats do you wear as a blogger?Do you run your own business blog? Then you are amazing, absolutely A M A Z I N G !

Whys that I hear you cry? Well, just think about all the different activities that go into developing and maintaining a successful business blog. Larger companies will probably have a small team working on their blog or blogs but you have to run it all on your own. And you manage to do it usually without even realising all the things you are doing automatically and the different hats that youre wearing.

But if we break it down, its really quite impressive!

  • Researcher: keeping an eye on the RSS feeds and Google Alerts can help speed up your research as you plan and build your own posts. Phew – a full time job in itself.

  • Writer: right at the centre of everything, there’s the writer in you who actually puts pen to paper and without whom you just don’t have a blog!

  • Storyteller: no, not in the sense of “telling lies”. Shame on you. People love stories so if you can convey your message as a story when you write it, that will make it all the more memorable.

  • Editor: some tough decisions sometimes have to be taken to keep the writer in check, so you’ll need to have an editor in you working hard to keep the writer on the straight and narrow.

  • Expert: with the research done, you let the expert in you come shining through to add the depth to the post.

  • Project Manager: well someone has to keep the whole thing together!

  • Designer: you need to have the blog looking the part in order to support your business goals. Luckily there are some good templates available and, if you can’t do it yourself, people who can help you to stand out from the crowd.

  • Techie: with your technical hat on, you may want to get “under the hood” which for WordPress would include the set up, adding plugins etc. Even with the other systems, understanding how a blog works will allow you to make your blog more targeted to your readers.

  • SEO expert: with Search Engines a key consideration, make sure that you think about optimising certain aspects of your blog as part of your online marketing. Even if it’s just “Title Tags” and ‘friendly’ permalinks it’ll help.

  • Social Networker: or at least a networker. Offline it’s a great way to develop awareness and contacts, while online by your contributing to other blogs, it helps immeasurably to raise profile and awareness.

  • Market Researcher: you need to make sure that you are writing on topics that your readers are interested in so make sure that you carry out market research. Start by simply asking them. :)

  • Marketer: you’ve created a great blog so now get out and market it. And don’t forget that you need to do offline as well as online.

  • Diplomat: sometimes you’ll get comments on your blog which aren’t so favourable but be the diplomat, argue your position and remain your persuasive (but polite) self.

  • Businessman: at the end of the day, your blog is therefore for a business reason, so make sure the businessman/woman in you doesn’t let you have flights of fancy which aren’t helping those goals.

  • Strategist / Planner: you’ll want to make sure that the blog is heading in the right direction and that it’s developing properly, so keeping developing the plan of where it’s going and how it’s helping your business.

  • Housekeeper: sometimes there’s a lot of extra jobs you need to look at to keep the blog in order so try to tidy up loose ends when you spot them, answer comments, update software etc.

  • Accountant: though it pains me to say it, keep an eye on the bottom line even with a blog. There are costs involved and the main one is your time so try to remember that you’re looking for a return on your investment of time here.

  • Analyst: don’t forget to keep a check on what posts are attracting most readers, where you are getting referrals from and whether you are getting the search engine positions you wanted. Once you’ve analysed it you can do something about it!

  • Therapist: just in case you are feeling a little schizophrenic by now! ;)

So how manys that? I think I make that 19 in all and doubtless, youll be coming up with lots of others.

Dont panic, I know it sounds daunting …. and, in a way, it is. But don’t forget, that you don’t need to do it all yourself if you don’t want to. Some aspects you may decide not to bother with, others you’ll link up with other people to work on together and with some you’ll perhaps get an expert in to help.

But the main thing is that you are already doing it, you’re out there communicating and connecting with readers, prospects and customers in your blog and that’s hard work in itself. So, after all that effort and hat changing, may I suggest a quiet moment and a cool drink might be in order – and maybe I need to add Bartender to the list as well.

Image Photographer:Lisa F. Young | Agency: Dreamstime.com

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Geographic search with GoogleGetting your blog indexed by Search Engines is relatively easy – you write, get linked to and the Search Engines follow the links and find you. Et voila! However, for most bloggers, ranking highly is more important and doing so on Google in particular for some it’s for bragging rights (egosurfing and the like) but, for business bloggers, it is for commercial reasons. Lets be honest, getting found means more potential readers and so more potential customers.

However, although we tend to use Google in the singular, there are many different Google search results for the same phrase, the primary factor being where you are searching from.

We know that Google operates Google.com as the global search engine and then a large number of individual country search engines, the UK one, for example, sitting at www.google.co.uk. The results at Google.com and Google.co.uk vary quite markedly with more relevance given to sites which are country specific in the google.co.uk results. There is also a third option which I am primarily interested in here, which is for “pages from the UK” only, and is activated by a click box as you can see below.

To be included in this listing, Google needs to ascertain where a blog writer is located so that they can decide whether they should appear in these results or not. This they have generally done either using the country suffix on the domain so for UK results, .uk as in .co.uk or .org.uk – or where the IP of the host server indicates they are based. Result – if you are a UK blogger with a.com domain and host it in the US then there is no way of Google to know that you are UK based and so you are excluded in a uk only search.

With me so far? Good. (Oh and by the way, this is the same for all other countries, US expected)

However, rather than suddenly reach for the UK Hosting Directory, Google it seems has now offered a solution to ensure inclusion, by allowing us to associate our sites (and blogs) to a particular country, no matter what domain name or hosting we have.

As outlined in Better Geographic choices for webmasters:

Starting today Google Webmaster Tools helps you better control the country association of your content on a per-domain, per-subdomain, or per-directory level. The information you give us will help us determine how your site appears in our country-specific search results …

So, pop along to Google Webmaster Tools and get yourself associated with the country you are targetting – you can only do so with one at the moment so don’t try to be greedy, but it’s probably worthwhile and certainly if you are not appearing where you would like in your country specific results.

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EU Directive hits floggersLast year, there was lots of talk about fake blogs (aka flogs) and one or two notables (Walmarting across America and All I want for Xmas is a PSP particularly come to mind) which rose up above the flog mediocrity to be truly awful. There were also some high profile companies amongst them and both they and the marketing companies which initiated them on their behalf were roundly berated by the blogosphere as a whole, and the blogs (or should I say flogs) quickly closed down and withdrawn.

Generally this is the way that the blogosphere has policed its own. However, in Europe, as from the start of next year, the courts are lending a hand as a new EU directive comes into play which would make this type of activity punishable by law as reported in The Times early this year and The Register more recently.

In fact, the Directive is not specifically designed for blogs, fake or otherwise. It casts its net much wider than this and is concerned generally with media where someone falsely represents themselves as a consumer. In the online world, these could be testimonials on websites, book reviews on Amazon, reviews on hotel or holiday sites or presumably any online media including forums, blogs etc. where organisations leave favourable comments under a false name to try to influence other consumers.

So, while its encouraging to see the European Union leading the way in anything to do with “online”, a couple of things come to mind.

Firstly, is this something that is really necessary either in its proposed form or indeed at all? Is it not possible to maintain a type of self regulation which the blogosphere has shown itself to be particularly adept at when it feels that companies have overstepped the mark.

Secondly, I also worry that the whole thing is quite “un-policeable” with the huge number of online areas where this type of thing could be going on … and of course if cases are not followed up then why attempt external policing in the first place?

However, what is clear is that this is a very open confirmation of the importance and influence of Word of Mouth and, by implication, of “Word of Blog” as one of its principal online incarnations. So make sure that you don’t overstep the boundaries and fall foul of the law, but at the same time do make sure that you are using your blog to support and develop your online Word of Mouth and marketing activities as a whole.

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