August 2008


BlogDay 2008Its Blog Day 2008. It’s just a single day each year when we are encouraged to share 5 blogs that you might not yet be reading. Its really just a way to try to extend that the type of blogs that you might want to have a look at.

As a result, I have chosen a varied set of blogs covering a variety of different writers and types – I hope that at least a couple will prove of interest to you.

Happy Blog Day 2008!

1. Bird Droppings: the self styled ‘ramblings of a deranged mind’ which just happens to belong to Drayton Bird, considered one of the most successful direct marketers at work today. Not for the faint hearted, but certainly entertaining and most certainly to the point!

2. Biz Growth News: if you’re looking for personal branding and social media information sandwiched between a generous slice of practical advice and common sense, then this is the place to be heading to see what Krishna De has to say. Not to mention her Biz Growth Live podcast series which features some of the experts that you’ll really not want to miss.

3. How to Look Good: by Caryn Franklin, of The Clothes Show fame, it’s the easy style of writing that I particularly like which really gets her message across. One of those blogs where you can hear her voice speaking the words as you read them.

4. Innocent Drinks: the only pseudo corporate blog in my list, but one that I have found which has stuck to its guns and keeps doing things their way. It’s marketing without the marketing and PR without the PR - but it’s certainly branding through and through. Oh and it works …!

5. Chris Brogan: current darling of the social media marketing crowd and with good reason. Well worth the time to look through what he has to say and just let the idea of social media sink in – you’ll soon find that you start to realise all the options you have and, of course, the central roles that a blog and your RSS feed can play in your marketing.

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Business Blogging common senseIn case you aren’t familiar with the name, Matt Cutts is the public face of Google when it comes to the world of search engine optimisation and writes a well followed blog which focusses on these and other associated areas.

Earlier this week, he wrote a post where he offered 3 so called “rules of thumb” for company bloggers and which might be considered relevant for all business blogs. The ones he highlighted were:

1. Don’t make hard promises about the future
2. Don’t trash talk a competitor
3. Don’t post when you’re angry

(You can see the full post here.)

While I can’t disagree that these are three sound pieces of advice, I don’t know whether I’d view them as the three key points with regard to company blogs – however, they are most certainly relevant.

So why mention them here? Well, primarily because they show something which I believe to be very important when you write a business blog – you shouldn’t suddenly ignore all of the common sense and good advice you have learned about business communications over the years, just because you are writing on a “blog”. A blog is an extension of that, with some extra rules thrown in, I grant you.

So advice such as “don’t rubbish your competition” makes sound business sense whether you are giving a presentation, emailing information to prospects or talking to other people in your industry. It should a no brainer to then apply that same logic when you are writing in your blog, particularly when you take into account the potential size of your readership and the fact that, for good or for bad, the internet has a long memory so getting rid of inappropriate comments you later regret is going to be problematic.

So, just because you are writing on a blog, don’t suddenly bin all of your business communications knowhow that you’ve accumulated – use all of that and then adapt the rules to allow you to play to the strengths that your blog can offer.

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RSS Series from Better Business BloggingIn the first part of this series “What is RSS all about then?“, I tried to give an overview of what RSS is, from a layman’s point of view if you like. Here, in the second part, it’s time to move on to looking at some of the ways in which RSS can be used by businesses, bloggers and publishers in general.

General RSS Benefits for all

For me, RSS is very much a Clark Kent figure – not particularly impressive on the outside but lots of hidden “super powers” underneath. Am I overstating that a little? Well you decide. To start, let’s have a quick run through of some of the elements that RSS can do for the information you publish in your business or blog:

i) Instant Publishing and Automatic distribution
As you publish new posts and information on your blog, RSS publishes them automatically on any additional sites that have decided to syndicate your content. This allows you to concentrate on the quality of your content and lets your RSS feed distribute it for you to all the places and people who have requested it, automatically and instantly.

ii) Direct guaranteed delivery to subscribers
You can be safe in the knowledge that your subscribers will receive the information that you are providing without worrying whether some overzealous spam filter might have intercepted and binned it.

iii) Targeted content delivery
There is no need to just offer a single RSS feed – instead you can break down your content into different areas so that people can choose to receive the targeted content they prefer. If you use WordPress, you can do this with the categories, each of which generates its own RSS feed automatically which you can offer to your subscribers.

(more…)
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Blogging: one piece at a timeI love sport and while I may now have changed from active participant to armchair pundit, I am still a fervent follower of a whole range of different sports. With the Olympics dominating our TV screens over the past two weeks (certainly here in the UK), I could have quite happily sat watched 24 hours a day, had the prickly subject of work not intervened!

The exploits of the now global stars that are Michael Phelps and Usain Bolt have been mind blowing and almost as impressive, from a Brit’s point of view, has been the performance of the British competitors in “Team GB” – 39 medals overall with 17 golds as of today and sitting 3rd in the medals table.

Among those golds, the highest number came from the cycling team which has dominated the track events in the velodrome. How come? What has been the difference which has set them apart? Well, according to the Times Online, British Cycling performance director, David Brailsford believes:

there was no specific ingredient or secret that set his sport apart and that success has come by way of the aggregation of marginal gains

Interesting? I think so and it’s something that I think is very relevant to many other areas including blogging. Here too, there is no single “secret” or magic spell which will revolutionise what we do – although that doesn’t stop websites continually popping up claiming they have “The One Secret that will supercharge your Blogging, flood your Bank Account with money etc etc. ...” < yawn >

Instead, focus on getting get all the elements working together so that you can benefit from the marginal gains that each element offers. Clearly the subject matter is all important – without that you’re not going to get off the starting line. But I’m thinking beyond that and more of the complementary elements that help set the blog apart and push it: make your post titles and title tags work for you, illustrate the text with graphics, add friendly permalinks, make social bookmarking easy, offer readers other related posts, consider other SEO factors, add an email a friend option, make your RSS feed work hard for you and so on.

Each of these adds another piece to the jigsaw and helps to develop the blog. So whatever stage your blog is at, take a look at it and see what else could be included to add to the experience of your readers and to increase the benefits to you.

Then go back and repeat the process. You’ll soon find how those marginal gains add up.

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RSS Series from Better Business BloggingThe internet has opened up a whole Aladdin’s cave of information which is constantly being updated and added to – it has also revolutionised the way in which we find and share it. However, keeping up to date with all that is going on can be time consuming and, in many case, nigh on impossible.

So what would be better? How about having all the latest news and information from the sources you want to hear from delivered directly to you? This would save a huge amount of time as you wouldn’t need to keep revisiting all the websites that interest you to see what new information they’ve added.

This is where RSS comes in. RSS offers a simple way of gathering and sharing information without all of that time consuming activity involved in actually going to look for it. All the latest news comes to you rather than you having to go looking for it.

So what is RSS, again?

RSS means different things to different people, and I don’t just mean what the acronym stands for – that’s Really Simple Syndication in case you were wondering.

You and I are looking for an easy (and preferably anonymous) way of keeping up to date with all the latest information from sites we’re interested in – a way to skim through it in our own time, reading items which are of interest and passing over the rest. With RSS, we can get it all in one place and be safe in the knowledge that all this comes without us having to part with our email address and that nagging concern that we might have just opened ourselves up to yet more offers of “enhancements” and “ebay security checks” .

What is RSS: an overview



For publishers of websites and blogs, they just want a way to distribute and share their latest news and information with individuals, sites and directories who have requested it. The fact that this happens automatically without running the gauntlet of touchy spam filters is great and the fact that people feel comfortable about subscribing because it is anonymous is even better.

Looks like a Win-Win situation to me.

How do I use RSS?

Ok, sounds good but what do I need if I want to use RSS?

Well, remembering that RSS is really just a way of distributing or collecting information, we need two things to use it: some information that we want to subscribe to (an RSS Feed) and then something to use to collect it and read it (an RSS reader).

Let’s look at RSS readers first – RSS readers can either sit on your PC or can be part of a website online. (Think of it a bit like your email programs: Outlook is a program on your PC, whereas Hotmail is a website online.) Recently, the most popular ones have been online so we’ll concentrate on those – Google Reader and Bloglines lead the way and now you also have the option of using readers which come as part of the Internet Explorer and Firefox browsers too.

To start, I’d probably recommend that you pop along to Google Reader – you’ll need a Google Account if you don’t already have one but it’s quick and easy to set up and then you’ll soon be ready to start selecting what information you want to receive. You do that by adding RSS Feeds.

How to find RSS feeds?

This is getting easier and easier for us, partly because the browsers that we use have started to highlight the fact that they are there. Basically, you want to be on the look out for some of the symbols below, all of which do the same thing – they let you know that there is an RSS feed waiting for you!

RSS Icons and RSS buttons



Just click on the image – if you see a page of text then copy the URL (the address of the page) and then go to your RSS Reader, click on “Add Subscription” or “Add Feed” and paste it in. That’s all you have to do. If you see a more friendly page of images and some text, then it’s even easier – just follow the instructions there!

What’s next?

Well, in terms of anything technical, that’s it. Once you’ve subscribed to the RSS feed, or rather the information from the site, you just sit back and let it do all the chasing and collecting for you, delivering the new stuff from that site to you – and the website will never know it’s you. Safe secure and instant. If you want it to stop, then that’s a simple click of the mouse, deleting the feed in your RSS reader.

Using RSS really is a massive time saver – you get the information delivered to you, saving all the hassle of having to revisit your sites in case there’s some thing new. All you have to do is decide what you want to read and delete the rest. And for publishers, you get to deliver your news securely to people who really want to receive it, but remember that the onus is on you to keep the quality high because, if not, they’re gone!

Questions?

I hope that has helped but if you’ve still got questions then leave a comment or drop me a line and I’ll try to help.

Bloggers / website owners – if you’d like to use this on your site then please feel free. You can even modify it if you’d like. However, if you would link back to Better Business Blogging to return the favour then that would be great. Something like “Thanks to Better Business Blogging for this RSS overview” would be great.

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RSS Series:
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. Ways to increase your RSS subscribers
5. Marketing with RSS
6. Using Feedburner to optimise your RSS

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Blogs in ecommerce sitesI guess that I consider myself to be a relatively typical shopper, albeit probably a little bit more comfortable online than most. My own tendency, particularly when Im buying anything out of the ordinary, is to turn to the internet to first check out and research whats available and then to compare pricing.

It seems that I am not unusual in this. A recent survey carried out by Nielsen online (followed up by this post by Nielsen’s Ken Cassar) and reported by eMarketer, has added additional credence to the idea that whether we ultimately buy online or in the shops, we (as consumers) routinely carry out research online before we do so. Indeed, 8 out of 10 respondents who had purchased a product in store said they had visited the store’s website first.

Perhaps even more telling is that the survey, which focused on consumer electronics purchases, reported that more than half said they ultimately bought from the retailer on whose website they had spent the most time.

What does this tell us? Well, clearly that we, as consumers, are becoming more and more web savvy which is re-assuring. But from an online retailers perspective, it also shows us that the stickiness of our site is going to be a crucial factor in not only keeping shoppers there but encouraging them to buy. This is going to be the case whether we are running a small online store with a few items or a full ecommerce setup.

Enter blogs. I feel a full post on the subject of blogs and online retail or ecommerce is in order, but for now Ill restrict myself to a few key benefits of getting a blog on your site alongside your online store.

  • More Information: the more information you give about your product or service (not just description but also how people have used it etc.), the more confident your readers are likely to be that it is right for them and the more comfortable they’ll feel about purchasing it. Just as critical, as the survey shows, the longer they stay on your site the more likely it is they will buy from you;

  • Answer their Questions: giving people the opportunity to ask questions and re-assure themselves that their choice is correct will help develop trust not only in the product but also in you as the vendor;

  • Customer Reviews: the importance we place in other peoples experiences and feedback with products has been proven time and time again. Using a blogs ability for people to leave their own comments will allow you to use the same techniques to improve your own sales that sites like Amazon, ebay and Hotels.com rely on;

  • Search Engine Ranking: you’ll always want your products to be as visible as possible. Giving the Search Engines more to get their proverbial teeth into with a specific post about an individual product (linked back to its page in your online shop) will give you a search engine friendly page you can optimise for it and so the chance to appear more highly;

  • Distribution: whether you have new products, special offers or just extra information on products, remember that a blog also distributes this information automatically through RSS and pinging, so it gives a proactive as well as passive side to your marketing.

Whether you employ just one aspect that a blog can offer or you build it in as an integral part of your online store will largely depend on time and resources, I guess. However, do remember to think outside of the standard blog format and try to use the functionality in specific business ways, such as incorporating customer reviews. That’s when blogs can really start to work for you.

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Not so much blogging tools, but rather tools I use in the course of blogging, if you see what I mean! Anyway, here are 12 tools that I find massively useful in and around my blog.

1. Feedburner

One of the blogging tools I would recommend unreservedly. While I may not visit the site every day, I run all of my RSS feeds and my clients feeds through Feedburner which allows me to use them so much more effectively than I could otherwise. It isnt just so I can see how many people are following my blog through my feed or that they can automatically receive updates via email if they are not familiar with RSS. I can also use it to brand the RSS feed, create a signature using the feed to promote my blog on my email or on forum postings, add messages about my services to the feed and much more. Oh and its free.

2. Aweber

Although I use a bespoke email marketing system for the larger client campaigns that I run, I also run a number of mailing lists including my own free Business Blogging eCourse (over 2500 takers now, BTW!) via Aweber. This started life as an autoresponder system as well as a bulk email system which seems to have gradually expanded so you can do tracking and all sorts now. In addition, they launched Blog Broadcast which will automatically create an email newsletter from your blog posts that you can schedule according to your needs.

3. Google Webmaster Tools

Now at the end of the day, a business blog is still essentially a website and as such can benefit from the tools that Google makes available to webmasters everywhere. Lets face it, businesses may run blogs as an interactive mouthpiece with their clients and the good ones benefit from all of the intangibles in terms of trust, relationships etc they can create; however, this doesn’t stop businesses also tapping into the fact that they are inherently attractive to search engines and so ideal to help develop your online marketing. So check in with Google Webmaster Tools over at Google Webmaster Central.

4. Statcounter

Its essential to keep track of whats going on your blog, which posts are attracting most attention, where readers are coming from and what keywords they are using to find you. These are all things we need to know to improve and get the most out of our business blogs. For this, I use two tools – Google Analytics, which is comprehensive but the 24 hour delay in getting the stats can sometimes be frustrating if I need immediate feedback on posts or when I get a surge of visitors from sites like Digg or StumbleUpon. For this reason I also use Statcounter free up to a certain limit but not too pricey on the upgrade if you want some additional bandwidth.

5. RSS Reader

To keep up with what is going on in my industry or those of my clients, I rely on two tools. Essential tool no.1 – my RSS reader, which provides me with the news and views of selected sites delivered straight to me. Personally I have gone with an offline reader called FeedReader and I like it. However, I would be remiss if I didnt also point you in the direction of the two most popular readers when it comes to people who follow me: Google Reader and Bloglines. My only advice is to check them out and see which ones appeals to you most. Actually Im wrong my real only advice would simply be – get one!

6. Google Alerts

Essential Tool no.2 – Google Alerts. A great little tool which keeps me up to date by sending me emails with any blogs, sites and news articles which mention any of the topics or companies that I am monitoring. Daily updates on some keywords but for others I prefer to get immediate notification so that I can follow up if necessary, perhaps leave a comment or be the first to share the information with my own readers.

7. WordPress

Im a WordPress fan, I cant deny it. All the blogs I run for myself and those I set up for clients are based on the WordPress platform powerful, flexible and, in my opinion, the best tool to future proof your investment in blogging. (Oh dear, that sounded a bit like marketing speak!) However, there are often things that I want to do with a blog to achieve a business aim that I need to research from a technical standpoint. Enter the WordPress site. Not only an invaluable source of information on themes and plugins but also the support of other developers and users in the forums. Fab!

8. Yahoo Site explorer / SEO plugin of Firefox

Linking is such an important element of the development of a blog that it’s great to keep a close eye on who is linking to you. Specific sites like Technorati are really good but I also like to use another tool (or rather tools) to give a view across all areas of the internet – firstly you’ve got Yahoo’s Site Explorer which allows focus on inbound and internal links and secondly there is the SEO plugin for Firefox (from Aaron Wall of SEO Book fame). Both excellent.

9. Core FTP

While I could use WordPress to load images and pdfs etc onto my blog, I guess my years on the business development and marketing side of things havent totally suppressed the techie within (I blame my years at Psion for that) and I like to use an FTP program to load stuff onto my blog. Of course it also comes in very handy for setting up WordPress in the first place together with the plugins I use as part of creating fully optimised blogs for clients. Many recommend Filezilla but I still love the rather bare simplicity of Core FTP bless!

10. SnagIt

After trying a number of other products to capture images on screen, I finally forked out for SnagIt and dont regret it for an instant not that that makes me a big spender either at $50. Whether it is for putting together my training courses on blog promotion, creating manuals so clients can really use their blog properly or just to liven up posts or forum comments, its easy and very flexible. Well worth the money.

11. Dreamstime

Having looked at a number of different graphics sites, Dreamstime is the one that I use the most when I am looking for images and graphics to use in my posts. There are a number of others such as iStockphoto or Big Stock Photo which are widely used but I found that Dreamstime has an excellent range of images and a reasonable price structure so have stuck with that.

12. Technorati

Still the daddy of Blog Search Engines and Blog Directories all rolled into one. If you want to find a blog in your chosen area of expertise then Technorati is where to start and then just follow the links that you find there. Since its important to check out blogs that already exist as part of your own setup process, then this is definitely a site to be familiar with.

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