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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 Hints & Tips: here are all the key posts


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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    Building your blogAnother nice piece from Seth Godin last week where he talked about his Seven tips to build for meaning and where he briefly (comme toujours!) talked about some tactical tips about how to add value online.

    One of them particularly struck a chord with me. Seth’s comment was:

    It’s a brick wall, not a balloon. This is a hard one for many people. We try to build something quickly and get it totally complete all in one go. If we can’t, we get frustrated and give up. But great blogs and lenses are built brick by brick, a little at a time. You learn what works and do it more.

    I liked the analogy and particularly in terms of the building of the brick wall.

    I find that it can sometimes be difficult for companies when they launch a blog – whether they are launching a business blog or a full blown corporate blog, I get the impression that they have a nagging feeling in the back of their mind that somehow it’s not really finished.

    When a website is launched, it should have everything there written and visible including all the relevant information and the pages completed, stored and in place. When a product is launched, it should have instructions, packaging etc. right from when the first one is shipped to customers. I think they feel that that’s what a business blog should be like too.

    But the launch of a blog is not the end of the process, it is the beginning. Granted there will be the main Foundation posts in place at launch but after that the content will develop and be kept fresh by the new articles being posted – that’s how it becomes successful. Building the information, reputation, trust etc and fufiling expectations.

    So have patience and take heed of Seth’s comments – put solid foundations down and then build your blog brick by brick.

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    Business Blog Post TitlesAs you sit down to pen your next post, you’ll probably already have a clear idea of what you want to communicate and how you want to go about getting that message across. Nevertheless, unless you can entice people to read what you’ve written, then all of your hard work will have been in vain. So take care with the title you use for the post as it plays a key role in that process.

    Why are Post Titles important?

    Well, they’re important in the same way that a newspaper headline is – they attract our attention, offer an insight or a “teaser” as to what the post contains and hopefully encourage us to read the full article. We have a huge amount of information presented to us every day, and so it’s really important to grab peoples attention in the short space of time that we have before they move on to something else. It the case of our blogs, we generally only have the post title at our disposal to achieve this.

    However, there is an added complication. We need to remember that we are in fact trying to attract the attention of two groups: readers (or should I clarify by saying human readers) and Search Engines.

    If they both reacted in the same way to words then things would be easy, if a little boring. However, they dont and nor are they attracted by the same things. While human readers are attracted by humour, nuance, plays on words as well as information, Search Engines are attracted purely by the words which we provide. Ideally, we need to find a way to cater for both.

    Where do we see the titles?

    However, we also have to bear in mind what people actually see in different situations and places – bear with me here, its important! The first obvious place is on your blog itself – at the top of your post is the title which will hopefully inspire you to read the post below it. Nevertheless, you are already on the blog, so in some ways the battle is already half won!

    The title of your post also appears in the main Blog Search Engines such as Technorati or Google Blog Search and in the RSS Feeds that people receive in their readers. As people browse here, then the title is critical in attracting their attention as they skim through the articles on offer. The more information that we all try to process in as short a space of time as possible then the less time we’ll have to attract attention and the more critical it will become.

    Post Titles and Title Tags

    However, when it come to the main Search Engines, things are slightly different. What appears on the results pages of Search Engines such as Google and Yahoo is not actually the title of your post but the Title Tag. This is distinct from your post title and something which you can control separately. The Title Tag is doubly important because it is an important element that the main Search Engines look at when ranking pages – they do take note of the title of your post, but they take much more interest in the Title Tag.

    So which way to go? My own preference is to keep the title interesting without making it too cryptic, and I always try to include the main keyword for the article. In addition, I make sure that, where necessary, I modify the Title Tag to ensure that that is keyword rich. (More details in my SEO series and a great WordPress plug-in from Stephen Spencer to help you).

    In other words, I try to appeal to both audiences. You are best placed to know what will appeal to your readers and you can guess that, for Search Engines, the principal keyword phrases for the post are going to be key. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to combine both as well as you can.

    This you have to read

    So where to find more information about titles, headlines and how to write them? Well, if you only go to one place, then head on over to Copyblogger’s posts on Magnetic Headlines. Highly recommended!

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    Blog database backupIn the digital based world in which we live, if there’s one thing that we can be certain of, it’s that from time to time computers will break and data will be lost. Granted, hardware and memory is becoming ever more secure so information loss no longer happens with quite the same frequency as it did during my days at Psion during the 90s (now that ages me) when I recall people losing their agendas and address books on a fairly regular basis.

    Nevertheless, we hold more and more company critical information in digital form on PCs and servers which we would we lost without – as no doubt some of us have already discovered to our cost! :(

    Well, in your blog, you have another key business tool whose information needs taking care of, just like any other. For this reason, a word of advice – and one that I give to all of my business blog clients – remember to back up your database on a regular basis. Furthermore, just as you should be doing with the information on your PC, keep a copy yourself rather than solely relying on your host to do it for you.

    For WordPress users, there used to be a plugin bundled with the application code but this is no longer the case in recent versions. Luckily, the same WordPress Database Backup plugin has been taken on by Il Filosofo and updated as well. The most recent version has an added feature which is a godsend for someone like me that has good intentions on backups but all too often a memory like a sieve for them – you can set it to automatically create a backup on a regular basis and have it saved or sent to you. Great!

    If you prefer not to use a plugin or have a masochistic streak a mile wide in you (or for non WordPress users), then you might find this blow by blow account of how to back up your database in the WordPress Codex to be fun reading.

    However you decide to go about it, do remember to do it! Or a least keep a large swear box handy for when something goes wrong.

    EDIT: Hat tip to Graham Jones for this: it seems there is a new service called Blog Backup Online from Techrigy which offers automated database backups. Caveat – not tried it yet myself but might be worth a look.

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    Landing PagesWhether you use a blog as part of your company marketing strategy or it is your only online presence, youll no doubt be looking to promote your blog as widely as possible.

    Unfortunately, much like normal websites, it is not simply a case of build and they will come there are, however, lots of ways to encourage visitors and readers, some of which are outlined in the
    52 methods of blog promotion.

    Consider Landing Pages

    Whichever ways you choose, I would encourage you to also adopt one of the key elements of successful online marketing and develop specific relevant landing pages to complement the marketing. In case you are wondering, a landing page is the page on your blog that visitors arrive at after clicking on your promotional creative, whether that is a Pay Per Click advert, email marketing link, magazine or newspaper advert or a Word of Mouth recommendation.

    You should make the page completely relevant to the keyword phrases they have been searching on in the case of Pay Per Click advertising or the subject matter of the promotion – effectively, your first goal is to reassure the reader that the page (and by implication your blog and company) really does provide what they are searching for.

    This is equally effective when you are marketing offline, perhaps in magazines or at seminars, as you can create individual landing pages which offer information which is going to be relevant to these groups – then just provide them with this URL rather than your homepage.

    What are your aims?

    A landing page needs to be focused not only on where your reader has come from but also very clearly on what you want them to do and where you want them to go as a result of reading it. There are a number of different options which are nicely summarised by Seth Godin as follows:

    • Get a visitor to click (to go to another page, on your site or someone else’s)

    • Get a visitor to buy

    • Get a visitor to give permission for you to follow up (by email, phone, etc.). This includes registration of course.

    • Get a visitor to tell a friend

    • Get a visitor to learn something, which could even include posting a comment or giving you some sort of feedback

    The information that you decide to have on each specific landing page and how you build the page will depend on what you want to achieve with it. The whole page should point to the “call to action” that you are looking to achieve, but at the same time should motivate your readers by showing them the value in it. It that means using a “giveaway” as a taster then do that too.

    Creating the Landing Page

    You could use a highly relevant single post or, more appropriately, a category page, with a specific sticky post at the top to make sure that you press home your message. Lets face it, posts on business blogs will tend to be specific and focused on a particular subject or subject area.

    However, to get the developed landing page we outlined above then ideally you should create one which is tailor made for the job. If you are using WordPress, then this is very straightforward just create a page (rather than posts) which sits outside the chronological structure of the blog and link directly to that. With other systems, you should be able to use the same functionality that you use to create your About page .

    In terms of content, try answering these questions as you create each landing page:

    • What benefit am I offering? (may be more appropriate than what service or product)

    • What specific group of people do I want to appeal to?

    • 5 reasons why they would be interested in what I have to offer?

    • What do they need to do to take the next step? (ie. subscribe, buy etc)

    It is helps, you could consider that each landing page is really a summary of all the pages covering the product or service you are offering which needs to be motivational and persuasive without being hyped.

    So to summarise – I’m not suggesting that we start to turn our business blog into purely a direct sales tool. Far from it. However, the blog is a business tool and we should use it to develop connections and new opportunities as best we can to support the marketing activities we employ to promote it and our business. Astute use of landing pages will help to achieve this.

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