July 2008


RSS Series from Better Business BloggingTo most, RSS is not going to appear to be the most exciting tool in the social media box – it’s not coming out in video any time soon, can’t rival podcasts in the audio department, doesn’t seem to interact with anything and, all in all, comes across like someone who’d prefer to sit in the corner at parties rather than get out there and mix.

True, but only half the story. In fact, it seems to me that RSS is in need of a good PR agent.

Well, I’m no PR Guru, but I’m going to try to show with a series of posts over the next week, how RSS is an immensely powerful tool which can be used in any number of exciting (yes, exciting) and useful ways, whether you are looking at it from a user’s or a publisher’s point of view.

The posts will be looking at:

1. RSS - An Introduction: So, what is RSS all about then?
2. RSS Benefits for businesses, bloggers and publishers
3. Benefits of RSS for users & subscribers
4. Marketing with RSS
5. Using Feedburner to optimise your RSS
6. Ways to increase your RSS subscribers

So subscribe to my RSS feed to make sure you don’t miss anything ;) and if you don’t know what I mean by that then the first part of the series will be right up your street!

RSS card: RSS will surprise you!

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One of the key worries that businesses have as they start to develop their blog is what to write about and how best to communicate their messages across to their readers. Effectively, what sort of posts they should write. Well, posts can take many shapes and forms according to the authors inclination and the readers preferences I think the skill comes in matching the two as closely as possible.

To help the process, heres a list of 17 possible types of posts that you could look at to develop the conversation on your business blog. They wont all be relevant for every blog but they should help to spark some ideas on ones that would be most applicable for you.

1. Foundation Posts

Foundation posts are the core posts that your blog should be built upon and which focus on the key subject areas that the blog is going to be talking about. They are likely to be longer than other posts, focused in the content and, more often than not, will contain tips or practical advice centred around your main topics. These are posts that you’ll want to spend a bit more time on and which people should want to refer back to and share, time and time again.

2. Expertise Sharing

No doubt a familiar type of post for small business bloggers and a key one at that. These posts will demonstrate and share information on important topics relating to your expertise, with each post focusing on a particular aspect of that topic. The subject will be of direct interest to your readers and should have primary goal of developing or reinforcing the confidence and trust that they have in your abilities.

3. Lists

Lists remain one of the most commonly referred to types of posts and hence a very good way of getting a lot of information over in a short space of time. People can dip in and out as they see fit, so these are also the type of post that often gets referred to and shared in places like Digg.

4. News Delivery / Reporting / News Breaking

Blogs are a great way of sharing news and information and, because of their immediacy, also for breaking new stories. Unfortunately, few of us are able to be on the spot when we get a scoop but we are able to share news and information that we have found with our readers. While you could simply share a link or story as is, if you want to develop your own relationship with your readers, try to add your own perspective and comments to it when you write about it.

5. Guides / Instructional

A “How to” guide is an excellent way of passing on information and creating something which has the ability to go viral. While sharing information in anecdotal form is great, sometimes you just cant beat a clear guide that’s easy to follow from someone who has been there, done it and got the T-shirt to prove it. Think of it like instructions on putting together a piece of furniture from Ikea (hopefully with all the pieces there) and make your “How to” guides the definitive ones for your specialism.

6. LinkBaiting

A post which is designed primarily to attract attention and incite people to link to it, hence link baiting. This might be a post with contentious or provocative content aimed at getting a reaction from readers or might be one based on humour. In essence though, it’s sole goal is to provoke a reaction and generate links.

7. Surveys & Polls

Facts and figures lend weight to an argument and by using figures from a recent survey or report and then adding your own commentary, you can get your message across with up to date information to support it. Alternatively, why not run your own poll in your post and gather information from the people you really want the opinion of your own readers.

8. Article Reply

So youve seen something that caught your attention on some one elses blog or website and left a comment on it but you want to expand on that. Great, write a post which references the original but then goes on to either develop and expand on the points it makes, or to counter them.

9. Rants

Never get abusive or personal, but if you write about something that really bugs you and you believe is worth sharing, then this can come over very powerfully in a blog. It adds to the 3D view of you, the person, and helps tell your readers something more about you. Hey, we also like a little bit of Victor Meldrew, letting off steam now and again.

10. Industry Commentary

You are going to be well placed to pass on information about what is happening in your industry and how events are likely to effect your readers and other players in it. So make sure that you become the place that people visit to get informed opinion about what’s going on by delivering posts which report on developments in your industry.

11. Conferences / Exhibitions / Seminars

A great way of getting across information and sharing with a larger audience is to take information from a conference and report back via your blog. This could be your own conference or one that you are attending as a delegate – beforehand, highlight that you will be there (and willing to meet up no doubt) and then feed back what you found interesting or particularly useful.

12. Company Specific

There may be some specific news about your company which will be of interest to your readers, perhaps new capacity, extra staff or additional clients, all of which reflect favourably on you and your business. A constant stream of these might be considered unimaginative and prove boring, but the occasional one thrown in adds to the information pool your readers have about you.

13. Press Releases

While not to everyones taste, a blog is also an excellent distribution method for information (using RSS, pinging etc) as well as being the platform for conversation and relationship building. Dont use it simply as a Press Release conduit, but if you believe that it is relevant and interesting to your readers then there is no harm in putting PR information out through your blog as well.

14. Guest Post

Ok, perhaps a slightly different angle here, but why not get someone else in to write a post for your blog. Your readers get additional great information on a subject, you can get extra publicity as the guest writer will probably reference it from their own blog and it will add to your reputation in the process. Perhaps a reciprocal arrangement with a number of different authors? [BTW – if you’re looking for guest bloggers, drop me a line! ;) ]

15. Links Post

Theres always going to be information that you have unearthed during the course of the week that youd like to share and is useful to your readers, but which doesnt suit a full post on its own. So create a post with a series of links to articles, information sources, new stories etc. with just a short one line commentary on each.

16. Reviews

Might be of a book or white paper, or perhaps of a service or product which is relevant to your readers give your own opinion on it and then open it to the floor and get your readers opinions as well.

17. Video or Podcast

Its becoming ever easier to integrate either podcasts or videos clips into your posts and they are also a great way to offer something a little extra to your readers. Ideally make them your own but you can of course embed videos from sites like YouTube that you believe would be beneficial. If you put commentary around them (and a transcript for your own) then youll take the SEO on the post up a notch as well.

Of course, a post doesnt need to fall into just a single category this one, for example, is clearly a list post but I would like to think also falls into the area of expertise sharing. At the end of the day, focus on what will appeal to your readers (you could always ask then what they are looking for!?) but hopefully you’ll find some ideas here to be going on with!

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No, I really do mean it, why do you link to your blog?

I’m thinking here of the people on business or social networking sites who insist on blindly linking to their blog (as well as their website) from their profile because they have been given a space to do so. Great if you have a blog which you keep updated but why do it when it hasnt been touched for several months? For me thats like proudly linking to your website, encouraging me to visit and then all I find is a big Under Construction sign or the hosting companys holding page. It looks bad and its bad for business.

The whole point of having a business blog that it tells the reader more about you, markets what you do and opens up a conversation or connection, all of which is likely to reflect positively on you and your business. But a blog where the most recent entry is from the previous year not only doesnt add anything positive to peoples perception of you and your business, it can be distinctly negative.

So why do people still do it is it that they think it’s still worth maintaining a link just in case it helps with Google? Maybe they just added it and forgot about it as part of a frenzied attempt to sign up with as many social networking sites and forums as possible. Bad move. Every profile you create adds to the pool of information about you on the internet its best to treat them with respect and keep track. The internet has a long memory, for good or for bad.

From a professional perspective, its particularly disappointing because many of the profiles I read are in fact small business owners who are highly specialised in what they do and clearly have much to offer. Ideal candidates for a successful and focused business blog. More than that, by actively participating in networking sites theyve already shown a real understanding that building trust and confidence online can add so much to their business, leading to referrals and generating real partnership opportunities. All things which running a business blog can also offer in bucket loads.

But not if its left to die. So even if its just once a week, keep your blog live and then make sure that you do link to it! If not, then please delete that link until you do seriously, its a lot better for your business that way.

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Optimising your Blog for Search EnginesThe 3rd part of the series and a lot of what I have been talking about in the first two posts on Optimising your blog for Search Engines and Optimising your Blog for your Readers, will be relevant here. In fact, it probably all is. Generally, when it comes to our businesses, our online relationships with our readers and with the search engines are inextricably linked in todays world.

After all, we use optimisation techniques to try to get a higher profile in the Search Engine results pages and so attract more visitors. Then the optimisation for readers comes into play by keeping them on the blog, getting them to read and enjoy the posts, and ultimately encouraging them to return or recommend the blog. Optimising your blog for your business, ties these two together and supports them through the use of additional elements which further promote what you are doing and why.

So, make sure that you consider these as well if you want your blog to make the impact that it should on your business and support everything that you are writing:

1. Promoting your own services? Keep them above the fold

If your intention is to use your blog to attract people to you and make them aware of the services / products that you offer, then ensure you keep the links to them visible and above the fold, so that they can be seen without having to scroll down. At the same time, don’t make them so in your face that they take over. Balance is the name of the game. Your readers are astute and are likely to judge you on what you write but also on how you conduct yourself and this falls under the latter. Essentially, it comes back to the idea that you should not try to sell to them on a blog, rather help them discover why they want to buy from you.

2. Don’t swamp your blog with adverts

This means both yours and other people’s. If your readers are likely to lose the will to live because of the number of adverts that they have to wade through to find your posts, then they will quickly fall out of love with your blog and you. So if you intend to include adverts and partner links, make them relevant but don’t let them take over your blog.

3. Spend time on your blog design

When I talk about blog design, I’m not just thinking about the graphic design (ie. the look and feel) of your blog and how that relates to your business, but also the placement of the different elements such as navigation, categories, special posts, sign up boxes, offers etc. on the blog. Just as you may well have spent time on your website and possibly worked with a web development company, take the same care with your blog to ensure that it best serves your business goals.

4. Add easy referral methods

Referrals and recommendations are the lifeblood of many businesses and are possibly the best type of business introduction that you can get. In blogs, your posts provide information about your business both through the content and the way in which they are written – help your readers to share this information by making it easy for them to pass it on. Include an email a friend option as well as links to social bookmarking sites such as Digg, del.icio.us or Stumble Upon and, with the current interest in micro-blogging, a link to Twitter might also be beneficial.

5. Can they print it?

Sometimes I wonder if I am not yet fully embracing the online experience because I still often like to print off blog posts and webpages that I find useful so that I can read them at my leisure offline. I know that Im not alone in this. Unfortunately, printers often truncate these posts because the page width is, well, too wide. So make sure that if people want to print off and refer to your article (yes!!) then they can without having to guess what are the missing words. [Wordpress users might like to include WP-Print for this.]

6. Make it easy to comment

I mentioned the need to make it easy for people to leave comments when talking about optimising your blog for your readers, but of course it works both ways. Comments are the start of a conversation which hopefully will benefit both parties and they should also benefit all those who come to your blog – they’ll not only see extra information but will also get a better picture of you through your replies. In addition, you may want to consider using the comments on special pages as live online testimonials, product commentaries, hotel/restaurant rating or whatever use that your business can put it to. If you want to know how valuable this so-called User Generated Content is, just look at companies like Amazon, Hotels.com or eBay!

7. Make use of RSS Marketing (and basic RSS Advertsing)

RSS is a key element of getting our information out into the right places on the internet, automatically and directly – it will also ensure that our messages reach people who have subscribed. However, there are many ways in which you can use your RSS feed to reinforce the business messages that you wish to get across. Presuming you are not hot on XML coding (I certainly fall into that category), then use Feedburner – you can add logos and notes to each post sent via RSS through their service. In addition you can add links after the post to promote/inform about your business, services or special offers using their Feed Flare facility. Think of it like adding a couple of relevant links to your email signature – great visibility without being too intrusive.

8. Include Calls to Action

I know that a blog should really just be about engaging with your readers, starting a conversation with them and creating those all important connections, but you are running a business too, so it’s important to give the process a little helping hand. Make sure that you have calls to action on your blog – it’s not direct selling or straying from the general ethos of blogging, it’s just letting your readers know how to take it to the next stage.

9. Be easy to contact

Just in case you were about to forget, the aim of a business blog is to encourage people to get in contact but you still find bloggers who make it difficult to find out how to do so. Make sure that you have a contact page and that its easy to find and use in this instance, its nothing about being transparent or open, its just good solid business common sense.

10. Want sign-ups? Where’s your form?

If a key goal is to get subscribers for a newsletter or ecourse, then make sure the signup box is given a prominent position on your blog. Email marketing and the use of autoresponders for sequenced messages works really well with blogs and is something that is often overlooked as we keep our head down trying to write new posts. Remember the research which indicates that we tend to read pages in an “F” shape starting with the top left hand corner, working our way across the top and then reading down the left hand side – use that information and judge the placement of the important elements accordingly.

11. Make your blog as sticky as possible

A lot of the stickiness of a blog will come through the content that you write, but there’s no harm in giving it a helping hand. Judicious use of both videos and podcasts, for example, means that you can get your message across in a number of different media, and use them as additional avenues to promote your business through video optimisation and podcasts directories. Consider running online surveys or contests, offer free downloads, reviews of relevant books – all can complement the content you write to help keep your readers on your site and keep them coming back.

12. Use TACT Track, Analyse, Change and Track

Make sure that you know what your readers are really reading, what are your most popular posts and what the Search Engines are referring people back to. Use a program such as Google Analytics or Statcounter to give yourself a good level of visibility of what is drawing attention and whether your calls to action are having the desired effect. Of course, this will only be beneficial if you analyse the information that it gives you and make changes accordingly. The process then starts all over again – it is certainly worth it though and will help make your blog work better for you.

In optimising your blog for your business, what you are really doing is giving it every chance to help promote and develop it. In doing so, you are ensuring that your blog can be found by your readers and potential customers and that they have easy access to the information that it contains. They should then be in a position to act on that information, ideally by getting in contact and by also sharing that information with others.

As ever, don’t get hung up on trying to optimise your blog purely for Search Engines or even purely for your readers. Remember what it is really there for – a tool to market and promote your business. Instead, keep a watching brief on the requirements for both readers and search engines, but make your main focus one of optimising it for your business.

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1. STOP!!
Before you rush in and publish your first post on your new blog, stop. Thats right, stop, hang fire, wait, take a chill pill, or whatever phrase you care to use. First, lets do a little bit of thinking and, heaven forbid, planning before we rush over to the nearest free blog site to register an inappropriate name, choose a bland design and start to write things your customers dont have any interest in.

2. Plan what you want to use it for
[Sorry to mention plan again so early on] If the answer to this is that you dont know, its just that your competitor has just set one up, then go straight to jail, dont pass Go and dont collect 200. You need to be clear what you want to do with your blog right from the start or else you are quite simply planning to fail and join the ranks of businesses with forgettable (and most likely forgotten) blogs. At a basic level, decide if you want to focus on company branding, or perhaps differentiating your services by writing about your specific expertise or perhaps carrying out market research with it in fact any use other than Well, Im not really sure.

3. Decide who you want to read it
Everyone anyone someone?! Try to be all things to all people and the likelihood is that youll fail to appeal to anyone. The best types of business blogs tend to be specific in nature so, if you know who you are writing for, then you should be able to write things that are going to interest them. If they are interested then theyre going to come back and read some more and maybe even pass on the news to others that theyve found a company who really knows what theyre talking about. Sounds like a plan to me! (plan sorry)

4. Check out other blogs in your market
When you move to a new neighbourhood, youll always want to visit the area first, have a look at the other houses, see whats going on, maybe talk to some people and listen to what they are talking about. See who people take notice of and who runs the local sports club that you are interested in. You get to know the place before you move in. Do the same with blogs get to know the blogs that already exist in the market you are going to be writing about. Use a Blog Search Engine like Technorati or Google Blog Search to see whos talking about what and how the blogs are being used. You might get some ideas for when youre planning and putting together your own!

5. Decide what you want the blog to achieve
And while we are thinking about the blog from a business perspective, how about some targets? You just know someone, sometime, somewhere is going to ask about Return on Investment (particularly in corporate blogs) so make sure you can tell them what you planned to achieve and whether it hit those targets. Youll need to measure the results of course and decide on your criteria – sales enquiries, newsletter signups, referrals, reduction in customer support requests or reader numbers are just some of the ones you could use. In any case, if you dont know what you want to achieve then how can you tell if you are doing the right things?

6. Decide where to run your blog
And dont say Blogger! (I still prefer to have control over the information in my blog when its such a key part of my marketing.) My question is really whether you want to have it on your own website or run it from a separate domain? Lots of variables you can take into account but when it comes down to the nitty gritty, if it complements what you have on your website then integrate it; if you want to take a different stance in your blog which doesnt sit comfortably with your main site, then use a different domain. From an SEO perspective, no issue same domain.

7. How much time to spend on it
Blogging takes time – there is the research as well as the writing that you need to consider and although there are lots of ways to help streamline this process, the posts still have to be written and you are going to want to maintain the quality of what you produce as well. The posts can take a number of different forms from Foundation posts at the start to long involved articles or simple link referrals – all are valid if they add value to your readers. Anyway, I digress. Plan how much time you are willing to dedicate to your blog, you’ll find it much more relevant than deciding how often you want to post.

8. How do you want it to work with your business?
As I mentioned in a recent post, no blog is an island, so you need to make sure that the blog can work with other parts of your business. Plan (damn, damn, damn) how you want it to work with the other activities that you have ongoing or at least that you know how you are going to achieve it. A blog can do lots for you on its own but it can do even more when used in conjunction with the rest of your business.

9. Check if you really need a blog
This may sound bizarre given all that I do here to help people use blogs to promote their business, but its a really valid question. Youve looked at the other points above? Have you got answers to them and, with those in hand, do you still want to run a business blog? It’s good to be clear from the start that a highly effective tool when used correctly and worse than useless if you are going to start it with lots of enthusiasm but no planning, only to let it die as soon as that initial enthusiasm wanes. However, if the answer is still Yes, then great – now you can get started properly!

10. Plan
As you may have noticed, there is a theme running through all of these elements and that is … planning! Planning, or rather the lack of it, is the root cause of more blog failures than anything else, either because they lose focus in terms of content or business focus, or because the author(s) lose impetus. All things that can be avoided with prior planning. So don’t fall into that trap and before you start your Business blog … stop and do the planning which will ensure your blog is a success.

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I’d love to be able to describe a blog as an all powerful “magic wand” which will single-handedly solve all your marketing woes. Unfortunately, in spite of what some over eager blogging enthusiasts might have us believe, its simply not the case. What blogs are, however, are excellent tools which sit perfectly at the centre of your online marketing activity and which you can use to drive your business development efforts. Now thats not too shabby, is it?

The problem is that that, all too often, a business blog is set up and run in isolation within the company rather than treated as part of a larger set of activities. No matter how successful you make your blog, it is still important to consider it as part of the overall mix – any company thinking of running one in splendid isolation is just guilty of actively stopping it from fulfilling its full potential. Running it in conjunction with other activities will prove to be far more effective both for the blog and your company.

If, as is often the case, the blog is designed to help market the company and its offerings or enhance its branding efforts, then treat it as a part of the overall marketing mix. Make sure to link it with the other activities you are using or even use it as a hub to coordinate them online and gather the responses they generate.

Ideally this coordination should happen at the planning stage so that the main interlinking set out in advance and all of the marketing strands can work in tandem. If not, then you will find that a blog is flexible enough to be able to adapt to a change in focus and direction later on if required. Employing this approach will give results which go far beyond those you could achieve using any of the activities on their own, boosting your blog and the overall campaign. The diagram above, while clearly only giving examples of the many online, offline and social media marketing methods available, tries to show the type of integrated approach that will produce the best results.

Likewise, if you are using the blog for Customer Service or Product Development reasons, then again make sure that it is part of the overall process, integrated with your Call Centre, your Developers or your Product Marketing team and not stuck out on a limb under the control of a separate department. Use the information that your customers provide through it and share it with others. Treat it as the tool that it is, rather than a solution to all ills, and you will be able to tap into a collective resource that your readers and staff can jointly add to – you can then in turn make that available to all those who visit and use the blog, both internally to your company as well as externally.

So, whatever the job you have in mind for your blog, make sure that from the planning phase onwards you run it in conjunction with the other activities you have in the same area. A blog can be a real hub for your customers, prospects and staff alike so dont isolate it connect to it and through it!

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