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    Business Blog design: 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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    Blog sidebars: adaptable in any situationAs we put together new posts for our business blog, our main focus, time and effort is centred on what appears in the middle of the screen, the place where we write and display the content for our readers. It’s the key area and it’s right that the effort we put in reflects this.

    Use your sidebars to your advantage

    Nevertheless, there is more to a successful business blog than just the writing. We have specific goals for it and we need to both maintain and direct our readers’ interest to what those business goals are. The blog posts will do a lot of this work but there is also a lot that can be achieved by careful use of both the sidebars and the header of a blog. Some of this will be to highlight our own services/products, others will help readers find other posts or pages in the blog and others will highlight certain aspects that we want to encourage them to look at.

    They play key roles in achieving our blog’s aims and the sidebars are “prime real estate” on the blog which we need to use effectively. We may find that a single sidebar works best for us, however, wider screen sizes that are now the norm give us the opportunity to include two sidebars without compromising the area displaying our main content. More area to work with! However, what we put in them and the order they appear are important considerations which combine good blog design and achieving our business goals.

    Many options – here are just some!

    There are lots of different options that could be used (and space is after all limited) but here are some ideas which you might like to consider as you develop your blog:
    • Contact Details: could be on a separate page linked to from the sidebar but should be prominent. It’s no good someone liking your work and then not being able to contact you!

    • Author Profile: blogs are personal so it’s important to let your readers gain an insight of the blogger whose posts and articles they are reading. Give them an overview of who you are and what you do, then let your writing fill in the gaps;

    • Purpose of blog: it’s often a good idea to give readers a snapshot of why you are writing the blog and what you want to achieve with it – it can help to give context to the posts and encourage them to read further and pass it on;

    • Promotion of future events: if you are running seminars, courses or presentations, then this would be a great place to make your readers aware of them and promote them to them;

    • Promotion of products and/or services: in the same way as you might promote your events, then you can also make them aware by linking through to your products or services and introducing them (in an appropriate fashion!);

    • Social Networking profiles: with the proliferation of social media sites and networking groups such as Linkedin, Twitter, del.icio.us etc. links to your own profiles on each of these platforms helps promote your presence on them;

    • Photo of the author: taking the idea of blogs being personal one step further. Let them see what you look like! Make it relevant to the tone of your blog, though.

    • Most commented posts: one possible way of demonstrating what has created most interest with your readers and inspired most comments;

    • Last 5 posts: let people have easy access to your latest posts. This is particularly good on the individual post pages rather than the main blog page where, of course, the most recent posts are generally visible;

    • Recent comments: whether you show the last 5 or last 10, let people see who is commenting and on which posts. Additionally, it can act as a small “thank you” to those who have taken the time to leave comments as well as inspire others to do so;

    • Recommended sites: a list of sites that you are recommending to your readers as being well worth visiting. Adds value and helps make your blog a central resource of information;

    • RSS Subscription (RSS reader and email): you’ll want to encourage readers to sign up to receive your regular blog updates, so make it clearly visible and make sure that they can do so via email too! Not everyone loves RSS (unfortunately).

    • Newsletter Signup box: you should be running a newsletter in conjunction with your blog (there’s great complementary value) so explain what it offers and then get the signup box clearly visible;

    • Categories: one of the key structural elements and a principal tool in navigating your blog is through the categories, generally divided along main topic lines. Make them visible and keep them to 10 or 12 [unlike me :( ];

    • Monthly archives: again a key structural element of a blog though probably less used by readers now;

    • Search: the search box should be a standard feature on every blog so make sure it’s easily accessible and that it will look through both posts and pages;

    • Tags / Tag Cloud: a way to demonstrate the areas that the blog focuses on and a second navigation method to supplement the categories;

    • Testimonials: either testimonials or even customer logos can be a good way to link through to case studies or project overviews as well as showing the range of clients you work with;

    • RSS Feeds from other sites: bring in relevant industry news from other sites can be a good way to add specific information to your blog – and of course it’s all automatic;

    • Polls / Surveys: conduct your own poll on a topic relevant to your blog. Helps increase the interactive element and should provide you with some useful information as well;

    • Favourite books: recommended books which will interest your target audience, perhaps linked through to Amazon with or without affiliate code in the links;

    • Adverts: if you are looking to monetise your blog then adverts will feature prominently … but remember the distraction value;

    • Industry News: perhaps using the RSS feeds as suggested previously or using other inputs.

    As you can see, there are wide variety of elements that you can place in the sidebar or sidebars of your blog and this is probably only scraping the surface. What you place there and the order you show them will depend very much on the goals that you have for your blog, though, so choose wisely.

    What do you have on yours? Let us know below!

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

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

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

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

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

    2. Don’t swamp your blog with adverts

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

    3. Spend time on your blog design

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

    4. Add easy referral methods

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

    5. Can they print it?

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

    6. Make it easy to comment

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

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

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

    8. Include Calls to Action

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

    9. Be easy to contact

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

    10. Want sign-ups? Where’s your form?

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

    11. Make your blog as sticky as possible

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

    12. Use TACT Track, Analyse, Change and Track

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

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

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

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    Optimising your BlogThis is the first of a 3 part series looking at blog optimisation. When people talk about how to optimise blogs, they are generally referring to Search Engine Optimisation while this is important, and something Ill be looking at in depth in part 2 of the series, its only part of what we should be thinking about when we optimise a blog.

    First of all, I think that its important to look at optimising a blog for the people who really count – your readers! Its in your interest to make sure that their experience is as pleasant, productive and straightforward as possible. Why? Because these are the people that you want to connect with, the ones you want to talk to, the ones you want to work with and the ones that you want to recommend you to others. Be nice to them!

    You need to make sure that you help them to find the information that they are looking for, point them in the direction of other subjects they might also find interesting and generally ensure that they stay around to concentrate on the content you are offering without struggling to find or use it.

    So, in this respect, what are the areas that we should be looking at and how can we help our readers really benefit from what we write in our blog:

    1. Write posts on topics which interest your readers
    I know that we come back to content time and time again, but it really is so key that I’m afraid it’s worth repeating once more here. Write things that your readers will find useful, relevant and interesting! You already do? Great – then concentrate on the rest of this post and the other two in the series because they’ll support what you’re doing every step of the way. If you’re still looking for help then, when you’ve finished here, may I suggest checking out Brian Clark at Copyblogger – recommended. Seriously.

    2. Consider the layout of your posts
    Try not to have great swaths of text which create an often impenetrable barrier between your readers and the ideas you wish to communicate. Make sure that you break it up, have areas of white space and use subheadings to highlight your points – where appropriate, use bullet points as well and generally make sure that the layout supports your content rather than hides it.

    3. Good Navigation
    Good navigation should be consistent, easy to find and easy to follow. When your readers are on your blog, the last thing you want is for them to be floundering around trying to find other posts or searching unsuccessfully for them. Why not? Because they wont keep searching – they will have already left and gone to find it elsewhere.

    Try to keep the main navigation menus in the same place on each page and if you use the general blog conventions such as the home page link being in the header, then remember that you are also looking to attract non blog readers who will be looking for a ‘home’ button. Bottom line, make navigation as intuitive as possible for everyone and let them concentrate on your content.

    4. Easy Subscriptions
    Whatever you may be using for subscription forms, make sure that it is easy for your readers to sign up for – this goes for both your RSS feed and any newsletter sign up you might have. For your RSS feed, offer an RSS via email option (and link to a quick overview of what RSS is and its use to your readers) and for your newsletter sign up, include it on all pages, reassure about your privacy policy and perhaps include a giveaway as a sign up sweetener too.

    5. Help them to read more
    If someone has been interested in what you have written then make sure they can find other posts on your blog which might cover the same or closely related topics. Either in your sidebar or following the individual posts, give them a list of the most popular, frequently read or other related posts which they would be interested in. Any element of this type, well placed, will help to direct them to other related posts helping, in turn, to keep your blog “sticky”.

    6. Use Descriptive Categories
    Blogs in general offer you a wonderful automatic filing system in the form of categories and archives – WordPress also offers you the option of using tags as well to help classify your posts. When it comes to naming your categories and selecting your main tags, choose them carefully and make them descriptive as they will provide another method for your readers to find relevant posts which will be of interest. If the category names also contain your key words then there will be additional Search Engine value as we will see in part 2. As they will also act as a type of secondary navigation for your readers, try to keep them consistent.

    7. Search
    The Search function is another element which needs to be on every page if someone has arrived at your blog for the first time and is looking for something specific, then the search box is likely to be their first port of call. So make it visible … and make sure it works!

    8. Don’t forget to link out
    Although conventional wisdom on normal websites says that linking out equates to losing a potential customer, this is not so on a blog. Links out are of great benefit to your readers because it takes them to sites that you deem to be worthwhile to read, hence developing further the trust they have in you and your recommendations. So when you write posts, dont forget to link out where applicable either to support your arguments or to direct your readers to other valuable resources.

    9. Make Commenting easy
    Comments should really be the lifeblood of blogs which enable you to develop interaction with your readers and ultimately a community feel, so make sure that you make it as easy as possible for your readers to leave them. At the same time you do need to safeguard your blog against spammers so what would be the best solution? Making your readers sign up or log in to leave a comment is likely to dissuade all but the keenest commenters and especially first timers. So do your comment moderation behind the scenes and use spam filtering software such as Akismet.

    10. Can they contact you?
    Try to ensure that you are as easily accessible as possible. I know a number of bloggers who are reticent to do this, but in a business blog it is imperative that your contact details can be easily found, ideally on a specific contact page. You should also have a Profile page so that people can get a little more background on you and what you do which again should contain contact details. It might well be to your benefit!!

    As a final check, if you are able to make sure that your readers dont have to jump through hoops when they want to do something on your blog, then incorporate it. What do I mean? Well, look at it from your readers point of view as a test, go onto any blog or website and any time that you hesitate or arent sure what to do next on it, try to think why and then make sure that situation doesnt happen on your own blog.

    To paraphrase the well used phrase – “they hesitate, you lose”. So make sure that your readers dont have to hesitate but can find their way around your blog and around the information it contains.

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    How many hats do you wear as a blogger?Do you run your own business blog? Then you are amazing, absolutely A M A Z I N G !

    Whys that I hear you cry? Well, just think about all the different activities that go into developing and maintaining a successful business blog. Larger companies will probably have a small team working on their blog or blogs but you have to run it all on your own. And you manage to do it usually without even realising all the things you are doing automatically and the different hats that youre wearing.

    But if we break it down, its really quite impressive!

    • Researcher: keeping an eye on the RSS feeds and Google Alerts can help speed up your research as you plan and build your own posts. Phew – a full time job in itself.

    • Writer: right at the centre of everything, there’s the writer in you who actually puts pen to paper and without whom you just don’t have a blog!

    • Storyteller: no, not in the sense of “telling lies”. Shame on you. People love stories so if you can convey your message as a story when you write it, that will make it all the more memorable.

    • Editor: some tough decisions sometimes have to be taken to keep the writer in check, so you’ll need to have an editor in you working hard to keep the writer on the straight and narrow.

    • Expert: with the research done, you let the expert in you come shining through to add the depth to the post.

    • Project Manager: well someone has to keep the whole thing together!

    • Designer: you need to have the blog looking the part in order to support your business goals. Luckily there are some good templates available and, if you can’t do it yourself, people who can help you to stand out from the crowd.

    • Techie: with your technical hat on, you may want to get “under the hood” which for WordPress would include the set up, adding plugins etc. Even with the other systems, understanding how a blog works will allow you to make your blog more targeted to your readers.

    • SEO expert: with Search Engines a key consideration, make sure that you think about optimising certain aspects of your blog as part of your online marketing. Even if it’s just “Title Tags” and ‘friendly’ permalinks it’ll help.

    • Social Networker: or at least a networker. Offline it’s a great way to develop awareness and contacts, while online by your contributing to other blogs, it helps immeasurably to raise profile and awareness.

    • Market Researcher: you need to make sure that you are writing on topics that your readers are interested in so make sure that you carry out market research. Start by simply asking them. :)

    • Marketer: you’ve created a great blog so now get out and market it. And don’t forget that you need to do offline as well as online.

    • Diplomat: sometimes you’ll get comments on your blog which aren’t so favourable but be the diplomat, argue your position and remain your persuasive (but polite) self.

    • Businessman: at the end of the day, your blog is therefore for a business reason, so make sure the businessman/woman in you doesn’t let you have flights of fancy which aren’t helping those goals.

    • Strategist / Planner: you’ll want to make sure that the blog is heading in the right direction and that it’s developing properly, so keeping developing the plan of where it’s going and how it’s helping your business.

    • Housekeeper: sometimes there’s a lot of extra jobs you need to look at to keep the blog in order so try to tidy up loose ends when you spot them, answer comments, update software etc.

    • Accountant: though it pains me to say it, keep an eye on the bottom line even with a blog. There are costs involved and the main one is your time so try to remember that you’re looking for a return on your investment of time here.

    • Analyst: don’t forget to keep a check on what posts are attracting most readers, where you are getting referrals from and whether you are getting the search engine positions you wanted. Once you’ve analysed it you can do something about it!

    • Therapist: just in case you are feeling a little schizophrenic by now! ;)

    So how manys that? I think I make that 19 in all and doubtless, youll be coming up with lots of others.

    Dont panic, I know it sounds daunting …. and, in a way, it is. But don’t forget, that you don’t need to do it all yourself if you don’t want to. Some aspects you may decide not to bother with, others you’ll link up with other people to work on together and with some you’ll perhaps get an expert in to help.

    But the main thing is that you are already doing it, you’re out there communicating and connecting with readers, prospects and customers in your blog and that’s hard work in itself. So, after all that effort and hat changing, may I suggest a quiet moment and a cool drink might be in order – and maybe I need to add Bartender to the list as well.

    Image Photographer:Lisa F. Young | Agency: Dreamstime.com

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    Browsers, Searchers and Subscribers to BlogsWhen visitors arrive on your business blog, you need to make sure that they can explore it in the way that suits them, at least as far as possible, so that they can get the most out of their visit. To do so, you have to try to preempt their requirements and their habits.

    If we look to group visitors by the way that they are likely to want to explore your blog, then I think that they will fall into browsers, searchers and subscribers. To help them locate information and articles on your blog which will interest them, you should aim to cater for all of these groups and offer them methods to look through your blog which suits their requirements.

    Browsers

    As the name indicates, browsers are generally not looking for something specific when they arrive at your blog. Instead, they are simply following links from other blogs (from an article or perhaps via a Blogroll) to see where it takes them and whether anything appears interesting or catches their eye.

    Once on your blog, browsers will generally follow links – theyll move between posts by using links that you create so it’s sensible to reference your own posts where appropriate as well as other peoples.

    As a result, they can be quite random in what they look at and also easily lost if their attention wavers, so ensure that there are always links in your posts which reference other posts with relevant information. You may also find that creating related posts after the post (either manually or automatically) will help to increase their continued browsing of your blog.

    At the same time, they are open to being guided so point out posts which you consider to be most important (a Very best of page for example) or ones that others have recommended (such as “most commented” or “most viewed” posts) and get your best articles in front of them. Your goal here is of course to turn them into a subscriber so give yourself every chance.

    At a more sophisticated level, it may be possible to track what they have been looking at and therefore offer tailored or personalised advice as to what else may interest them websites such as Amazon are great examples of this in action.

    Searchers

    By contrast, searchers have clear aims in mind so are likely to be looking for a specific subject area when they arrive at your blog. They will be much more single minded in their approach when reading your blog, and so what they want are clear methods of locating the information that they are looking for as quickly as possible.

    Probably the most conventional way to do this is through a search box which should ideally be easy to find and on every page of the blog. However, they will have keywords or key phrases already firmly in mind and therefore may well latch onto the category names or the tags associated with your posts to help explore specific topic areas.

    Its still very important to offer searchers other links, particularly to related posts. This is partly because it may help them to locate the information they are searching for but, in any case, it will give similar or adjacent topics and so show the depth or your blog’s content. It should also encourage the searcher to delve deeper into your blog once they have found the specific information they are after ultimately to help them subscribe to your blog via RSS or via email.

    Subscribers

    It is probable that on your blog, the subscription is mainly run through RSS and so this is where we need to concentrate our efforts to encourage greater access to your content for those who are already subscribers.

    One element of this is the selection of a full or partial RSS feed. With partial feeds, an excerpt is delivered to the subscribers reader and if they want to read the full post then they have to click through to your blog. Most people, however, prefer full feeds which means that articles can be read directly from the feed the downside of this is that they dont actually have to visit your blog to read its content. However, fear not. Its still possible to incorporate other links and offers in the feed itself to encourage them to explore further different medium but still very useful.

    Never fall into the trap of thinking once you have subscribers you can forget about them just the opposite. You have done the hard work by encouraging them to subscribe but now it is up to you to maintain the quality and relevance of what you are writing so that they continue to return and read and also hopefully recommend your blog. (Remember the 5Rs!!) With RSS, it is both easy and immediate to unsubscribe from a feed so the onus is on us, as business bloggers, to maintain a standard which will keep their interest.

    Whatever type of reader arrives at your blog – browser, searcher or subscriber – try to make sure that you cater to their online habits by ensuring that they can find your best information as easily as possible. With a good business blog design, the main elements should be in place but adding a little extra for each of the groups is always valuable. And hopefully, if they can find information which interests them, they will not only become subscribers but remain subscribers too!

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    When it comes to Business Blogging, there are 5 Rs which we should focus our attention on if we want to create a successful and sustainable small business or corporate blog. Our aim should be to put all the necessary elements in place on our Blog to allow these 5 Rs to happen as smoothly and automatically as possible. When we manage this, well have created a Blog which fulfils both our readers requirements and our own business needs.

    These 5 Rs are:

    Read - Reply - Return - Recommend - RSS

    Simply put, we need to create and maintain a Blog which in the first instance will attract readers and then encourage them to participate by commenting on our posts or contacting us directly. We then need to make sure that it provides sufficient value or creates enough interest to make them return and become regular readers as well as recommend our Blog to others. The 5th R of RSS underpins all of the others by supporting the distribution and the promotion of the blog.

    If we want people to read our blog, then logically the quality of what we write in the posts will be important. However, we first have to attract readers to our blog – if they dont know about us or cant find us then we are going to fall at the first hurdle, no matter how good our content or services are!

    So promoting the blog is always going to be a critical phase in getting our posts read and its important that we make use of all the methods at our disposal to achieve the best results possible ideally this will combine offline marketing as well as online and blog specific marketing methods.

    As part of this, we need to consider the Search Engine aspects when we write. Its essential to focus on making the content interesting and useful to your readers but it also has to be written in such a way that it is appealing to Search Engines they are a key way to attract readers so we need to write with one eye on ensuring our search engine ranking is as good as possible.

    In addition, to make all of our other efforts as effective as possible, everything about the blog should be attractive and easy to use, from the general design to the layout of the blog and the positioning and display of our own marketing elements.

    The first step in engaging properly with your readers is to have them reply to one of your posts and allow them to voice their opinions, thoughts, ideas and concerns. This creates the interaction, conversations and ultimately the connections that business blogs need to develop and thrive.

    However, we cannot sit back and just rely on the comments simply appearing instead, we need to be actively encouraging them, either by the way in which we write the posts or by asking open questions as part of the text or even by specifically asking for them.

    Having encouraged people to want to reply, try to avoid putting barriers in their way getting people to fill in a form in order to leave a comment is never going to get good results! Its also important to listen and respond to the comments which are left, hence developing the conversation and working towards establishing and then building on a connection with the reader.

    Effectively, we need to get to love comments and make sure that we respond to as many as possible that we receive. We should ensure that we respond to any negative comments which arrive negative comments can often be the most important type!

    As a last thought, you might even consider adding a list of recent comments as part of your blog to highlight those who have made the effort to leave a comment and to encourage them further.

    If people are interested in what you are writing about and find value in it then the likelihood is that they will return to read more. By maintaining the quality of your posts and demonstrating your expertise on a consistent basis, you will be giving yourself the best chance of this happening.

    In the process, you will develop not only a loyal readership but you will also be developing a growing level of trust between yourself and those reading your Blog. Make your blog THE place to go to find information on your specialist subject area.

    Once readers return to your blog, make sure that they can explore all your posts as fully as possible let ALL of your content shine through. To help this, make sure that the navigation around the blog is as clear as possible, that you highlight your key articles (the Foundation articles) and that you include links to related articles at the end of each post.

    As a final point, try to keep an uncluttered look and feel make it easy on the readers eyes again so that they want to return. No-one will come back simply because it looks nice but you want to avoid people deciding to stay away because it doesnt.


    This might have been called Refer but I prefer the concept of recommending which has a more positive connotation and when someone recommends your Blog, that is a very positive thing!

    How do you recommend a blog? Well, clearly, you can tell people about it directly! Word of mouth (WOM) is the most widely used form of recommendation there is so use it to your advantage. When people are considering books to read, films to see or hotels to stay in, arguably the most important element in the decision making process will usually be recommendations from friends. The online world works in the same way and blogs really are the online equivalent of W.O.M.

    There are other online and blog specific ways which are just as important. The most frequent one is to simply reference a post or article from your a post on your own blog, as well as including a trackback. Another option is to include someone in your Blogroll, which is where bloggers highlight the blogs they recommend to their readers high praise indeed. When this does happen, then just like the replies to your posts, follow up and thank the person for the link and hence the recommendation.

    Dont forget that you also make it easy for people to tell a friend about it using an email a friend type of function or links to social bookmarking sites such as Digg or Del.icio.us which will automatically add the post to then be shared online.

    Lots of ways to be recommended so encourage them all!

    Communication and dissemination of information is key to achieving a successful blog and the RSS functionality is the way to achieve that. So the 5th R included here is RSS.

    When someone subscribes to your RSS Feed, it means that they have shown a commitment to continuing the interaction they are interested in receiving more information and with RSS you can provide them with immediate updates from your blog, cleanly and instantly. With so many benefits on offer for all parties, make sure that the RSS feeds are prominent on your blog to make it as easy as possible for visitors to find them.

    To cover all options, you should also give people the opportunity to subscribe to RSS by email – 3rd party services such as Feedblitz or Feedburner make this straightforward. In any case, as RSS is still an unknown quantity in many quarters, it may equally be wise to provide a link to a page which explains what RSS is and what RSS Readers are available.

    Once you have your RSS in place, use it to your benefit. Try to differentiate yourself in your feed and include branding elements such as your logo tools such as Feedburner can really help you to do this simply enough. RSS will also allow you to syndicate your content on a number of different sites immediately and, as a final comment, dont forget that you can create any number of individual RSS feeds to cover individual topics.

    But whether you work from a single RSS feed or develop multiple feeds, it is important that you make RSS a central part of your blog promotion and reader retention program. It is something which underpins the other elements and allows the Business Blog to reach its full potential by making the information we produce as widely available as possible.

    Summary

    If we can achieve each of these 5Rs successfully in our Business Blogging, then we are well on the way to creating a Business Blog which will achieve the goals that we set for it, whether they are focused on creating a network, improving our reputation or positioning, developing a solid base of subscribers, increasing our Search Engine Rankings or simply generating new business.

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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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    Business Blog Design SeriesWell, this may not have been the quickest series that I’ve ever written, but over the past weeks I’ve written a series of posts looking at some of the business elements to consider when designing a Business Blog.

    As I’m no graphic designer, I’ve been focusing on blog design in terms of how to use the layout and key components of your Business blog to your best advantage from a business perspective.

    Anyway, here are links to the posts all together.

    Business Blog Design: Initial Post
    Business Blog Design: Profile and Contact Details
    Business Blog Design: Navigation and using your Content
    Business Blog Design: Generic Blog Templates
    Business Blog Design: RSS Feeds & Subscriptions
    Business Blog Design: Onpage Advertising
    Business Blog Design: Comments
    Business Blog Design: Categories, Archives and Search

    Do let me know if they’ve been useful and also what other things you considered when you set up your own blog and perhaps they can be included in a follow up post.

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    Business Blog Design Series[This is part of a series following on from a post called “Business Blog Design“]


    One of the key elements which makes a blog easy to use (as an author) and to navigate (as a visitor) is the fact that it is self structuring and self organising. The main way this happens is that posts are automatically stored in both Categories and Archives. However, even aspects like these can be used to our advantage if they are used properly.

    Categories
    Essentially, the categories on a blog allow you to organise your posts by filing them into various folders according to their subject matter. From a usability and navigation point of view, this has three main results:

    • it makes it easier for people to find what they are looking for either browsing through the subjects covered by the blog

    • it allows them to go directly to an area they are interested in

    • from the author’s point of view, it gives us the chance to try to direct their investigation of the blog rather than just let them search blindly.

    If I take the example of my own blog as well as those that I monitor for others, I find that the categories are where readers tend to look first when they explore the blog further rather than turning immediately to the Search function. So if we can get the naming and positioning right, then this is really going to help to increase the areas and posts which get explored.

    The choice of Category names is also important and has an impact both with regards to our readers and also to search engines. It impacts in a number of areas namely:

    • Visitor focus – using clear names allows readers to get a quick view of your content and focus just by scanning your category names;

    • Friendly Permalinks – with certain permalink structures the category name is included, so make it count by covering your keywords in your category names;

    • Category Headings – these are included at the top of the individual category pages usually in a ‘header tag’ and then of course relevant content follows below in the posts in that category. Great focused search engine content.

    • Anchor text – the anchor text is the word(s) which make up a link. In your blog, the category links on every page point at your individual category page with relevant keywords as anchor text – Search Engines give added weight to this.

    • Keywords on page – as well as everything else, just having the category names (and the keywords they contain) on each page is going to be beneficial!

    Basically, category names need to be descriptive (there’s no getting away from that) but at the same time they should naturally include your primary as well as secondary keywords.

    Don’t forget, that if you are using WordPress, then you can have subcategories as well as the main ones. This can be of use if you want to have different divisions on your page such as Geographic areas and Business areas because you can split your categories automatically into separate lists.

    Archives
    The Archives are another ever present feature on blogs although they come in a variety of forms, primarily monthly but also sometimes weekly or in calendar format. It’s good to keep them on the blog but I don’t recommend that they feature prominently, simply because visitors are less likely to search by date of posting (unless it’s something very specific) than they are by topic.

    A long list of archives can sometimes help to give a feeling of gravitas and substance to a blog, though really this should come out in the writing in any case. Therefore, so as not to clutter a sidebar which could be used for other purposes, there’s no real need to give direct links to more than 12 – 18 months worth.

    There is also a school of thought which says that it is better not to allow indexing of archives by search engines because they just end up in the supplemental indexes and clutter the results. Personally I’m not in favour of doing this, though I agree that the robots.txt file is the best place to control it from – however, I am in agreement that the calendar display formats can cause problems and hence recommend avoiding them where possible.

    Search
    While I find that many people dont use this function, often preferring to navigate using the categories, it is nevertheless one that most people are familiar with and would expect to see on a blog or a website. It particularly comes into its own when they are looking for something specific and when the blog has grown to contain a large number of posts or perhaps a particularly large number of topics.

    Make sure that the Search function delivers as much of the functionality that they would be used to as possible … and, let’s face it, that experience is likely to be based on Google. Particularly, try to make the results page as familiar to users as you can as it will help them explore your blog.


    Make use of all opportunities available to help your visitors find the content they want and also to attract those Search Engines!

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