September 2008


Business Blog post IdeasOne of the key concerns I get asked about by people writing their business blog is what they can do when they are looking for topics to write about. Don’t worry! I can guarantee that this will really not be a problem unless you let it be one. You know your subject inside out (or else you wouldn’t be writing about it) and you have a huge resource of information that will be useful to them – it’s really a question of picking the right topics for your readers.

For me, there are two main sources of ideas: you and everyone else.

Blog Post Ideas
– You’ll want to make sure that you don’t forget any of the ideas that come to you during the day and personally I use a nice and easy solution for this: quite simply, I keep a notebook with me at all times. Why? So I can jot down ideas that occur to me – and, let’s face it, they can come at the weirdest moments. Anything could trigger them – something I see which sparks a connection or perhaps a comment that somebody makes to me. I note down the idea and any other thoughts that crop up at the time which I can go back to, review and use as and when I need to.

Blog Post Ideas – Everyone Else

When it comes to “everyone else”, the best people to take ideas from are your customers, your prospects and your partners – these are all the sorts of people who are likely to ask those questions which others would benefit from as well, so can be a great source of inspiration.

So, make a note of the main ones and make a point of talking about them on your blog. Treat it in the same way as you would when you take questions from the audience during a presentation – that’s to say, repeat the question that has been asked so that the rest of the audience can hear and then go ahead and answer it.

Do the same in your blog – you will be providing information which will answer relevant and real questions that should help your customers use your product better and help your prospects to understand its potential better.

So that you have this resource developing on an ongoing basis, I suggest that:

  • you keep a folder in your email system and make a copy of both the question you receive and the response you send back – this will in itself form the basis of your business blog post;

  • after meetings with clients, prospects or suppliers, note down some of the key questions that they asked and which were clearly on interest to them;

  • at Conferences and Exhibitions, keep a record of the questions or the areas that visitors to your stand keep asking about and are showing most interest in.

You’ll soon find that you have topics for your posts planned out well in advance and as you write the posts, you will hopefully also start to receive comments which will start to take the discussions and questions in other directions as well.

In the meantime, here are some of the ones that I tend to use.

Write about current events

Something that you probably do on an ongoing basis is keeping an eye on what is being written about your industry, perhaps through various news media and ideally with the help of RSS feeds which of course saves you a load of time and gets you the news in double quick time. So just choose an event or piece of information which is of interest to you and your readers and give your comments on it and perhaps its implications. Don’t forget to reference the article and the site where appropriate though.

Read other blogs

Keep an eye on other blogs and what they are talking about you will probably find subjects that you wish to develop further, ones that you wish to comment on in your own blog (dont forget to use a trackback!) or ones that simply spark new ideas that you can write about. Other blogs are great sources of current thinking and new potential ideas.

Write a Series

Select a topic and write a set of posts around the theme you have selected. Try to plan the series out in advance (at least the titles) and then write them as you need them. Alternatively, once you get into the series, you may find that you write a number of them all at once. That’s great! But don’t get carried away and post them all together, instead postdate them (in WordPress, just change the “Post Timestamp”) so that they publish automatically a few days apart.

Revisit old posts you have written

Check back over some of your old posts and see if there are ones that could be developed more fully. You may feel that there are now updates or new information that you would like to add to them, so do so in a new post which references back to the original one and develops the ideas further.

Answer Questions from Comments on Posts

Use contacts from people who have asked for information or have asked questions which have developed on your original post and opened up in turn new areas or topics. Take these questions or the points that they raise and develop the answers into new posts.

Get a guest blogger in

You do not need to write all of the posts yourself, many Business Blogs will in fact have two or even more people working on them. However, if you dont have people who post regularly, you can still have a guest blogger who might come in to post on a particular subject where they have a specialist knowledge.

There is of course a final option – simply take a break from posting for a few days. Theres no issue with that – just let your readers know and theyll be waiting for your return with bated breath.

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Statistics can improve your business blogIf you want to improve the focus of your blog and make sure that it’s doing its job, then the best place to start (as well as asking your readers directly) is to check on your stats or analytics package. It contains a mine of useful information which will allow you to target areas which could do with a modification (or an overhaul) on your blog.

Most of the the stats packages worth their salt will offer a range of statistics covering your readers, their journey through your blog and how they found it in the first place. It’ll give you details of who is reading what, which are the most popular (and unpopular subjects) that you’re writing about as well as showing you what are the phrases being used to find you. It’ll also let you see how easy it is to find information on your blog – we all know where to find it on our own blogs but can other people?

Make it part of your routine

Analysing and using this information is best done as part of a circular flow which we carry out on our blog, not on a daily basis, but at least regularly. By doing this, we can make sure that we’re keeping up with what our readers are demanding of us … even if they don’t really realise it! :)
Blog Development Wheel

I’m sure that we are all aware of the Research > Write > Promote of the equation, although we probably all know that there’s more that we could be doing … well, that’s certainly the case for me anyway. However, the Analyse and Modify might be less automatic. For me, this means getting the information I can from the stats available and then modifying either the blog (to better suit my business aims) or the style and perhaps the focus of future posts. A useful exercise though not after every post!!

Getting down and dirty with your Stats

So what should you look for in your stats and what can you do with the information you find? Well, personally, I focus mainly on three things, though no doubt all of the figures they provide can be put to good use one way or another:

    i) what people are reading most of

    ii) what keywords they are using to find my site in the search engines; and,

    iii) which other sites they are coming from.

i) What people are reading most of (coupled with the figures I get from Feedburner for my RSS feed) helps me hone my content and lets me try to write more articles which will appeal to my readers. Obviously you can’t do this exclusively or the blog posts get very “samey” – and that’s got to be negative – but catering to your audience is a good thing, so use the information to help you write on relevant topics but don’t be dictated to by it.

What is also does is help me introduce them to relevant services I offer – if a post on Blog Optimisation is getting a lot of interest, then it makes sense for me to promote my Blog Consulting services alongside that post. Relevant information for people clearly interested in a topic I cover.

ii) When I see that there are certain keyword phrases which bringing new readers to the blog (particularly when they go on to visit other pages), I can presume that I’m ranking well for them and that they are relevant to my target audience because they are finding other articles of interest. This lets me know that, while I should obviously continue to write on this topic bacuse it’s popular, I should concentrate on other keywords as well if I want to widen the scope of my ranked pages in the search engines.

iii) Finally, when I see that there is a lot of traffic coming from a certain site, then the likelihood is I’m going to check it out. If it is a link from another blogger or an article referencing my blog on another site, then this is an opportunity to get in touch, make contact and thank them for referencing my site. There might also be other opportunities for collaboration on other topics or even projects. If the link is coming from a social bookmarking site such as Stumble Upon or Digg, then again I know that an article has struck a chord and that my own blog promotion efforts are working, giving me additional focus for the future.

Some Stats packages

There are a couple that I use primarily: as an overall package Google Analytics is a good bet. It’s free and comprehensive in the figures it feeds back, if a little overwhelming at times. The only downside is that the figures take 24 hours to come through, not too much of an issue if you are looking at overall trends but not so good if you want to track a campaign you have in place as it happens. For this, I run Statcounter which has a free service and then a paid one for extra capacity – also recommended is GetClicky which again I have had good feedback about. If you are using WordPress, then there are also a number that you can run internally – as a start point you might like to check Mashable’s article from last year or WordPress own Plugin directory.

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RSS Series from Better Business BloggingThere are two things that I consider to be safe assumptions in life: one, we all like to know whats going on and, two, we never seem to have enough time. Now it may be that for some of us, a copy of Business Week, The Times or perhaps Cosmopolitan (according to our preferences) will be enough to keep us up to date with what’s happening in the areas that interest us. For others, and particularly in business, we need to cast our net a little wider and need to be able to sift the information more quickly.

Of course, the more subject areas we want to follow, the more we bump into the issue of not having enough time to find the information that we need, let alone read it. Once again, RSS to the rescue! This sort of problem of information overload can really be reduced (though not I fear totally eradicated) by making best use of an RSS Reader to find and deliver to us the latest news and information from wherever it’s hiding on the internet.

So let’s quickly start by looking at five of the main advantages before moving onto some of the more specific business benefits below:

1. Time saver par excellence
Time saver because you no longer need to keep revisiting sites to get the latest information, instead it is delivered to you in a neat bundle to let you decide quickly and easily what’s of interest.

2. Latest information always at your fingertips
Whether it is business information, the weather, local news, breaking industry research or a new posting from a rarely-updated site you receive up to date information in your areas of interest as soon as it is published.

3. You are in control of what you receive
Both subscribing and unsubscribing from an RSS feed is totally under your control. You can do so at any time at the click of a button in your RSS reader; so if the information stops being relevant, you can instantly remove it.

(more…)
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Online Participation GuidelinesAlthough perhaps influenced by watching the wonderful “Yes Minister” in the 1980’s, my image of the British Civil Service conjures up an image of leather armchairs, men only clubs and political machinations. It would not have been where I would have first thought to look for a set of nicely concise guidelines about “online participation” as they so succinctly put it. However, there they are!

Their guidelines, the main points of which I have reproduced below, cover general participation online no matter what the medium – however, the advice I find to be particularly applicable to corporate blogging or indeed blogging in a small business environment as well. They are clear and to the point which is key when you want to get your message across to people in your own organisation, but reflect most of the ideals that we should bring to interaction online.

1. Be credible: Be accurate, fair, thorough and transparent

2. Be consistent: Encourage constructive criticism and deliberation. Be cordial, honest and professional at all times.

3. Be responsive: When you gain insight, share it where appropriate.

4. Be integrated: Wherever possible, align online participation with other offline communications.

5. Be a civil servant: Remember that you are an ambassador for your organisation. Wherever possible, disclose your position as a representative of your department or agency.

(Full details of the guidelines can be found here)

However, for me, just as important are some of the follow up points additional points that they highlight in text which follows that. They are so relevant to all we do online that I thought you might like to print them and stick them to your monitor.

Just to reiterate: don’t think of blogs and online media any differently in terms of what you should or should not say from when you are representing your company in any other situation. However, do remember that online everything happens at breakneck speed … for both the good and the bad things. Backtracking is not an easy option when the information can have immediately been distributed far and wide. Speed and breadth of distribution are two of the key benefits of blogging and online media … unless you want to withdraw something!

So, as you participate online or as you draw up your own company blogging guidelines, you could do a lot worse than refer back to the points made by the Civil Service about how to conduct yourself. Stuffy and British? Not really … more sensible and corporate.

(Hat tip to Laurel Papworth for the find.)

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