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  • Warren: Blogging and Social Media definitely go hand in hand. Having a successful social presence can do a lot for a...
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    Blogging Basics: here are all the key posts


    Building a successful blogYou want to have a blog which benefits your business – yes?

    You want a blog which people are going to want to come back to time and time again – yes?

    Essentially, you want a blog which is going to be successful – yes again?

    Well, to give you the best chance of a successful business blog, then you’re going to need to make sure that you tick all the boxes to ensure that all of the underlying elements are in place to make that happen. It’s not difficult but it is important.

    For me, there are 5 elements which are like building blocks that make a blog what it is, 5 layers if you like that constitute the makeup of a blog and so 5 key aspects that you need to keep in mind as you plan and develop your blog.

    1. Philosophy
    Underpinning everything else are the general philosophy needed for blogging – you’ve got to be comfortable with the basic ideals of what people expect from blogs or else you’re going to fall at the first hurdle. The key one is that of openness – if you, or your company, are not willing to be open and honest in dealing with the readers of your blog then the likelihood is it will not achieve the goals you have for it. Be transparent and honest, and you’re off on the right foot.

    2. Technology
    You need to build the blog on the right technology base so that it supports what you want to do with it. It has to be one that will help your blog achieve the requirements that you have for it, both now and in the future. Making sure that it can grow with your ongoing needs is key to effectively future proof all the work and effort that you’ll be putting in. There are a number of excellent blogging platforms available – my own preference being for the full self hosted WordPress – but just ensure that you pick one that will be able to grow with you.

    3. Business
    Getting the business elements right means that you are treating the blog as the business and marketing tool that it is rather than as a piece of technology divorced from the company’s aims and requirements. Getting the business part right means that you’ve planned your objectives and aims for the blog, know how you intend to promote it (including with social media tools in place) and have answered the 3 key questions in the planning phase which are:

    • i) What do you want the blog to be used for

    • ii) Who is your target audience and what do you want to attract to your blog

    • iii) What you want to achieve with it and how to measure that?

    4. Layout and Graphics
    The so called “look and feel” layer focuses on how the blog will be laid out and takes into account not only the graphical elements and branding but also how the layout and structure can reflect the goals of the blog and the company. In addition, the layout should support the business goals by ensuring that the key “real estate” areas are used as effectively as possible and navigation remain intuitive and compelling giving a “stickiness” to the blog.

    5. Content
    Finally the content is ultimately where your ongoing focus needs to be, with all of the other elements essentially being there in place to support and market what you write about. This is of course the key part which needs to have our ongoing focus since all of the other elements will ideally be planned and implemented in the planning and preparation phases.

    While the content element does rightly get the lion’s share of our attention and much of the online advice on setting up and writing blogs, the content will only work to its full potential in a blog built with a foundation of the other elements outlined above. They are what ensures that the content is correctly focused, distributed, read and shared – essentially delivering you a successful blog in the process.

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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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    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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    Blog on website or on own site?Judging by the search terms that people use to find Better Business Blogging, a topic which seems to be a constant issue for people looking at setting up their own business blog is how and where to locate their blog. Primarily, should it be as part of their own website or should it be on a new domain?

    I considered this previously in two posts which looked at the question of where to run your business blog and how to integrate a blog on your site, but I think that it is worth bringing together my thoughts and opinions on this again and developing them further.

    Although it can depend on what your intentions are in terms of branding, specific aim and focus, target audience, domain name and general marketing requirements, my take on this would boil down to:

    If it complements the content and focus of your site and appeals to your readers
    then always have it on your own website in a subdirectory.
    If it clashes with your site in these respects,
    then run it as a separate site on a separate domain.

    While there are other elements which could have an impact on your decision making, that should be the key aspect on which you make your decision.

    But – what about the Inbound Links!!

    The other reason often put forward for preferring an external blog is the benefit of inbound links that you can create back to your main site – “I’ve got a blog at mynewblog.wordpress.com and I’m using it to create lots of links through to my main site at www.mymainsite.com which will help me get to no.1 in Google”.

    In short, no. A more complete response, no, no, no!

    Google is many things but blind in Search Engine terms isn’t one of them. Multiple links from one individual site through to another suffer from what is best described as “diminishing returns”. To explain: the first link you create from the blog you have set up as a separate domain is great and registers a, let’s say, resounding “1” on the Google link scale. The second from that blog (and hence that domain) through to your site is seen as less valuable as you have already “recommended” the site with a link. In this case, it’s given, let’s say, half the value – the next, half again and so on for all of the other links from that blog domain to your main site. Result, as you add more links from your new blog back to your main site, the additional ones quickly become worthless.

    blog on own site or separate domain

    Compare that to holding the blog on your own site, taking the time to write content that people consider worth linking to and working to attract links from a number of different sites – as shown on the right above. Each of these will be fully valued and counted, as they are external links into your blog from different domains – in a very short space of time, having your blog as part of your own site and domain will have benefited your overall site more than an external blog ever would, no matter how many links with great anchor text you use. (I’m even ignoring the benefit of higher page rank here, which established blogs linking to you would have but your newly established blog would not!)

    So, when faced with the decision of where to run your blog from, if it is relevant to your site and to your visitors then integrate it as part of your own website. But, if you are setting it up to primarily boost your search engine possibilities then … definitely integrate it as part of your website!

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    Start or set up a blog: Key question 3This is part of a 3 part mini-series looking at the planning phase of setting up and starting your business blog.

    Each post will focus on one of the 3 key questions that you should have clear answers for as you set up your blog before you start to write it.

    Question 3:
    What do you want to achieve?

    Unsurprisingly, what we want to achieve with our blog is linked inextricably to how we intend to use it and who we are trying to appeal to – the first 2 key questions. If you want your blog to help raise your profile and demonstrate your expertise in your field, then you might be looking to build up references (and hence inbound links) or potential business contacts; on the other hand, if it forms part of your customer service offering, then you will want to see an improved customer satisfaction and reduced customer care calls.

    In both of these cases, though, to get the best results from the blog, we need to both write and develop the blog with a clear focus and goal in mind. It not only gives us direction but also gives us a yardstick to measure each decision about our blog against, whether that’s what topic to post about, changes to blog design, positioning of services etc. If it doesn’t help us to achieve the goal, then perhaps we should be rethinking it. It sounds harsh, but ultimately our business blog is an element of our business and therefore needs to be contributing to it.

    What we need to know clearly at the start is what we want to achieve with the blog and this, combined with the answers to questions 1 and 2, will help us to decide how the blog should look, where key elements need to be located, what to write, how to market it and so on.

    But, what criteria should we be using to see how successful the blog is? Ideally they will be in line with the main objective that you set out for your blog but its necessary to have some way of measuring this. Here are some possible ones to consider:

    • You might consider that it is the number of new or repeat visitors to your blog;

    • It could be the number of comments that you receive on your posts which can indicate the level of interaction you are achieving;

    • Number of subscribers to your RSS feed may be important because you feel this shows active interest;

    • Number of blogs and websites which link to your blog or refer to your articles via trackbacks;

    • Quantity of new customers who get in contact through the contact form on your Blog or specifically the sales generated by the blog either directly or indirectly;

    • Number of sign ups to a newsletter which you have as a marketing call to action

    • Reduction in support or care calls if you are running your blog as part of your technical support or customer service function

    • Number of additional book copies sold if you are using it as part of your book promotion activities

    • Comments and suggestions if your blog is being used as a market research tool or product development support

    • Press contacts or offline articles generated directly as a result of your

    Because the possible uses of a blog are so wide, so are the possible goals you can have and ways to measure them – it’s simply a case of deciding which is the most appropriate for you in accordance with the aims you have for the blog and your business. Bringing them all together should give us a feel for the overall Return on Investment (ROI), at least to a certain extent.

    Above all, have your objectives and goals in mind will help your blog fulfil its potential and deliver the results you want. As the refrain goes, “when you don’t know where you’re going, then any road will do” – so keep a careful eye on what you want to achieve and you’ll make sure you’re on the right road from day one.

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    A short apology for my absence from the blog over the last 10 days or so which has been caused by a mixture of work pressures and family pressures – it’s one of those times when you wish that you had a few posts already written which you can schedule in on occasions such as this. I must add that to my list of suggestions and my own to do list I think!

    I hope to be back into the groove at the weekend and have a series covering RSS nearly ready to go which I hope you’ll find interesting. It won’t be technical as I’m no techie myself, but hopefully will give some thoughts on how we can best benefit from it, both as publishers and as subscribers.

    Until then, thanks you all of your continued support – I very much appreciate it.

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    Corporate Blogs and how to sink themCompanies are discovering the benefits of communicating with customers through corporate blogs, and are setting them up in ever greater numbers. There are many places now where you can find help in setting up and developing successful blogs – indeed I hope that Better Business Blogging is one of them! However, I have found a dearth of places with practical information on sinking a blog, although the blogosphere seems to be littered with real life examples of dead or dying blogs.

    So I decided that it would be good to post some pointers to help those determined to professionally sink their blog. These have been tried and tested by some of the most expert blog “scuttlers” around so, with pens and keyboard at the ready and without further ado, I give you:

    1. Don’t focus on any one subject area: keep your readers on their toes by switching between posts on “Thermal Dynamics” and who is likely to win “The X Factor” or American Idol. Maintaining a clear focus on your blog will simply attract readers interested in the subject and encourage high search engine rankings for your relevant keywords. A real “no-no” when trying to kill off your blog.

    2. Make sure your Domain name can be misread: ‘Experts Exchange’ may be the name of your blog but you could find that using a domain name of www.expertsexchange.cc results in you attracting readers looking for a very different type of service.

    3. Over-optimise your posts: a keyword-optimised post should contain keyword phrases which are keyword attractive to Search Engines but non-keyword-optimised human readers are less likely to wade through keyword-rich blogs with too many keywords which make no sense. (cf. keyword phrases). Related post: “Keywords for keyword addicts

    4. Always sign your posts with “Lots of Love”: blogs are intended to be personal, so you can never be too friendly with your readers. Adding “xxx” for kisses adds that additional personal touch that sets you apart from other blogs.

    5. Don’t update your Blog: you know that your first post was probably “the best you’ve ever written” or indeed “the best anyone’s ever written”, so don’t pander to your readers’ whims by providing regular information. In any case, youll find that good regular information will only encourage them to come back and recommend your blog others, so stay clear of this potential minefield at all costs.

    6. Avoid pictures - in fact avoid anything remotely colourful. Everyone loves pages of plain text and the more austere it is the better, so don’t mess it up with imagery. Ideally steer clear of new paragraphs as well, one long one is more than sufficient – and you’ll also find that punctuation only distracts readers so do away with that too.

    7. Cater to a Multilingual audience but do so using an online translation tool. You will find that your blog instantly becomes unintelligible in the target language as well as the original. A clear “Win – Win” situation when it comes to confusing readers and chasing them away.

    8. Don’t respond to comments: to be honest, you never meant to allow people to actually leave comments anyway, it was just that you couldn’t find how to disable them. And dont install a spam comment filter either all those “special interest sites” are probably just what the doctor ordered.

    9. Calculate your Blog’s ROI – not a bad idea, per se, but once you have gathered everyone’s opinion on how to do it, decided on what criteria really matter and how to measure them and then finally got stuck into the calculations, you will find that you have no time left to post anything of value.

    10. Use lots and lots of external advertising – there’s nothing like a good game of “Hunt the Post” on a blog, your corporate readers will love it! So make sure you have multiple AdSense, BlogAds and eMiniMalls on your blog although, if space permits, you might like to squeeze in a post or two. The false dawn of hope that your readers experience when they finally find a post is a joy to behold.

    11. Avoid expressing an opinion – there is nothing worse than opinions to get peoples backs up and encourage them to participate on your blog which you will then need to ignore at all costs to dampen the debate. You may find that sharing information carries these same risks as it opens the door for dialogue and discussion, so avoid at all costs.

    With these 11 key rules in place, you will be well on your way to creating a blog which is certainly unattractive and hopefully will not be around long enough to gain any visibility for your company in the market. So cast off and bon voyage!

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    Looking for Business BlogsWhen starting a blog of our own or one for our company, hopefully we take time to plan out the content and look at what we want the blog to achieve for us and perhaps follow a process such as the one I advocated in the Green Cross Code of Blogging.

    One of the key parts in this process is the “look and listen” phase. This is when you take time out to research what is already going on and what is being discussed around the blogosphere in your industry or area. By following other blogs which address the same subject areas as your own, you should get a better feel for some key elements which will help you with your own blog, such as:

    • what others are writing about

    • what conversations are ongoing,

    • what topics are already being covered and by whom

    • who the main players are

    • which are the key blogs to read and be seen on

    • ideas on how to present your own blog




    But of course first of all, we have to find them!

    So what are the best places to find what blogs are already out there in the area that you have an interest in. Personally, I’d always start any search of this type with a Blog Search Engine and specifically Technorati which I suppose doubles as a Blog Search Engine and a Blog Directory. Being able to see who is linking to whom allows me to easily trace a route through to find the blogs that I am looking for. Others you could also check are Google’s own Blog Search Engine and Icerocket.

    However, there are other ways of locating blogs which would be of interest to you (and then of course adding them to your RSS reader – makes life a lot simpler afterwards!) and here are some which should make the job easier:

    • Blog Directories and RSS Directories: check through some of these blog focused directories which are usually organised along business and general interest lines. Choose your sector and start reading.

    • Social Networking / Business Networking sites: with the proliferation of the sites such as Facebook, Linkedin, Ecademy, Xing etc, there are a good bet for finding information on relevant blogs. This may be listed on the profile page of the person but it is also worth checking the “signature” text that appears under their posts on the discussion forums where they are often promoted;

    • Other Blogs: once you have a blog you are interested in then use the links and recommendations that they provide. These links may well be in the text of the post itself or in the Blogroll (or Recommended sites) in the sidebar of the blog;

    • Press Releases: as companies take on board the fact that press releases should contain more social media tools and be aimed at their target audience rather than editors, they are including blog addresses in their contact details. Get a Google Alert set up to include their News section and get a daily email on who’s making press releases which contain your keywords;

    • Blog Awards: there seem to be a number of Blog Awards now, either at national level or in specific sectors. Either way they should throw up blogs which are worth looking at;

    • Search Engines: of course the main search engines also include blogs along with the other websites and so may throw up different results to the blog search engines. In any case, always worth a look because of their “firepower”.

    • Blog Carnivals: Blog Carnivals are generally arranged around a theme so check out ones that might be happening in your area of interest and see who is getting involved.

    • Corporate Sites: as more and more companies realise the benefits of a having a blog (or more likely multiple blogs) you will find links to them from their sites. So check the company you are interested in and have a look around!

    • Google Alerts: don’t just use Google Alerts for Press Releases, make sure that you cover all the Google sections available – you can find some research ideas with Google Alerts here.

    Of course, since these are good places to find blogs, they are also excellent places to promote your own. As a first step, do make sure that you have your blog submitted to the various blog and RSS Directories and that your blog software is automatically pinging the Blog Search Engines every time that you post. After that you can look at some or all of the other methods for your own promotion purposes as time permits.

    Try to pick up as much as you can from the ones that impress you most but above all enjoy reading the blogs you find – that’s what they are there for!

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    I’m a great fan of RSS and all that it can do and I use it on a daily basis both to keep me up to date on a range of business topics that I’m interested in and also for writing my blog. However, I’m also realistic enough to know that RSS use by publishers is still relatively hit and miss, and so if I want to keep abreast of all information being published on the web, then I need to be looking at other tools as well.

    Enter Google Alerts. A great research tool and free to boot which can really help you with your blog posts, either to add additional reference sources to a topic that you have already written about or indeed to help you if you are searching for ideas of new topics to write about.

    It’s very easy to set up – just head along to Google Alerts and select the search terms that you are interested in. If you like, you can select new entries just from Google News, Google Search, Google Blogs or Google Groups, but by far the best option is the comprehensive search which checks all of them. Then when a new post hits the top 10 or 20 in your selected terms, you receive an email alert with description and link.

    So what different pieces of information might be of use to you when writing your blog? Well, anything that you think your readers would be interested in really, but here’s a few thoughts on the subject.

    • Industry information: news and announcements regarding the industry that is relevant to your readers including developments, company news and trends;

    • Competitor information: either new product or service releases or the different go-to-market strategies that your competitors are using. Forewarned is forearmed.

    • Exhibitions, seminars or other live events which might be of interest, either before they happen or to give reports afterwards on what happened there, announcements, who made the news etc.

    • New reports or surveys which might give you figures to add to your blog post and add additional credence to the points that you want to make

    Of course, you can also see what comes up with your own name or your company name as well – a lazy form of egosurfing, I guess.

    However, knowing who is talking about you and the areas you’re interested in as soon as it happens certainly puts you ahead of the game. So, alongside your RSS feed reader, make sure you have Google Alerts set up and get the comprehensive search sent over to you every day – you’ll be surprised how valuable it can be.

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    Use graphics to help your Business BlogsThere is a lot of talk about what you write on your blog being all important … and of course it is! The title of your posts should entice people to read the post itself and the content itself will do a lot of the work in determining if your blog finds its way into the RSS reader, the favourites file or the proverbial dustbin.

    However, its also important to make sure that the look and feel of your blog (including the individual posts) support and promote the information you’re providing. It’s just like when you’re selling a house – you make sure that you do a “House Doctor” on it and present it in a way that will appeal to potential buyers. It doesn’t actually change the physical structure but it does show it off to best effect. We can do the same with a blog and influence the way in which people react to it as well as how they take on board what we are writing about.

    Make your Blog stand out from the crowd

    So, the way your blog is presented plays a key role in differentiating not only your blog, but also you and your business. After all, thats what we are looking to achieve in business, being noticed so, any way which helps us to stand out from our competitors has to be positive.

    I dont know about you, but when I see blogs which, for example, run WordPress but just use the basic template – you know the one with the blue box at the top my first reaction is that there cant be anything of value there. In fact, I probably write it off as a splog (spam blog).

    Irrational and quite possibly untrue. Nevertheless I just think that someone who cannot be bothered to spend a bit of effort (or a few pounds) to spruce up their blog probably hasnt spent much time on the content either. Others have told me that I’m not alone in this respect. So spend a little time on the design of your blog and your posts, and help the information that you are carefully putting together get read.

    Caveat: try not to get too carried away. Remember that any graphics you include should not be there to distract your readers but rather to help them focus on the information and ideally encourage them to comment.

    Some Graphics Sites to try

    So where can I find good images to support the information in my blog, I hear you ask! Well, at one end of the spectrum, there are the files that come free with programs such as PowerPoint which offer both clipart and some photos which can be used.

    However, these can often be a little bit samey or not in keeping with what you want to communicate with your blog. There are, however, a number of excellent sites where you can find quality images covering a whole range of topics. Most of the good stock photos sites charge a small fee now, but the images are well worth it if you choose carefully.

    Some sites worth a look are:

    A word of caution: as with all images that you use off the net, do make sure that you follow any copyright requirements the last think you want is to have issues with companies claiming ownership of images which you have used legitimately.

    Other ways to break up posts

    In addition to the use of images, there are of course many other ways in which you can help to make a blog more readable. Some you might like to consider are:

    • break up the posts into manageable chunks

    • keep paragraphs shorter than you might do in a written document

    • use subheadings so that people can skim to the place and the information they want if required (better than them leaving the blog)

    • use bullets where appropriate or indeed create a whole blog comprising of a list – while Im personally not a great fan of these posts, they do work well

    If you mix in some of these and incorporate images which help your blog’s look and feel, then you’ll be taking a big step towards encouraging people to read your blog and take on board the information that the posts contain.

    Then of course, it’s just a case of writing something valuable …! :)

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