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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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    Business Blogging FAQs: here are all the key posts


    Linking Business Blogs and Corporate BlogsLinking is part and parcel of blogging and its an important part of it as well. The blogosphere thrives on links & connections and those blogs which create those outbound links will tend to thrive with it.

    Put simply, linking out is good good for your blog and good for your business.

    As you link to others, you strengthen your own position. Partly because you are validating and supporting the content of your posts but also because you are developing a repository of information which will benefit the readers who are attracted to your blog.

    In fact, there are lots of positive reasons for linking to other blogs and sites which I tend to categorise as follows:

      Informing your readers and Supporting your posts

      Links are probably the sincerest way of recommending other blogs as valuable sources of information – you are effectively giving them a big thumbs up. Equally, they are an important way of providing reference sources to support and corroborate the arguments or assertions you are making in your own posts.

      Business & Blog Promotion

      By linking out, you will also be spreading the word about your own blog. If you use trackbacks to the sites you link to, then youll appear in the comments section of the post you’re referring to, giving more people the chance to find your blog. Owners of blogs are also generally interested in who’s referencing them, so you’ll often get a visit from them, and hopefully they’ll like what they find!

      Developing Reputation and Creating Value

      You will get more readers using your blog as the start point for their research, primarily because they trust the information and the links that you provide effectively, in your area of specialism, you act as their online directory and general resource. For them, you become THE person to go to.

      Creating Community & Networking

      By linking to other sources, you are creating a mini resource in your area of expertise this in turn can start to generate a community or network of readers using it with you and your blog at its centre. The links you provide help your readers to learn more about the subject and direct them to discussions going on elsewhere. Essentially your blog becomes the place where your readers know they can get up to date information on issues that they consider to be important.

    So next time you worry about linking to other sites, blogs or resources of any type, try to think instead of the business benefits instead – not just to your readers but to you as well.

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    Geographic search with GoogleGetting your blog indexed by Search Engines is relatively easy – you write, get linked to and the Search Engines follow the links and find you. Et voila! However, for most bloggers, ranking highly is more important and doing so on Google in particular for some it’s for bragging rights (egosurfing and the like) but, for business bloggers, it is for commercial reasons. Lets be honest, getting found means more potential readers and so more potential customers.

    However, although we tend to use Google in the singular, there are many different Google search results for the same phrase, the primary factor being where you are searching from.

    We know that Google operates Google.com as the global search engine and then a large number of individual country search engines, the UK one, for example, sitting at www.google.co.uk. The results at Google.com and Google.co.uk vary quite markedly with more relevance given to sites which are country specific in the google.co.uk results. There is also a third option which I am primarily interested in here, which is for “pages from the UK” only, and is activated by a click box as you can see below.

    To be included in this listing, Google needs to ascertain where a blog writer is located so that they can decide whether they should appear in these results or not. This they have generally done either using the country suffix on the domain so for UK results, .uk as in .co.uk or .org.uk – or where the IP of the host server indicates they are based. Result – if you are a UK blogger with a.com domain and host it in the US then there is no way of Google to know that you are UK based and so you are excluded in a uk only search.

    With me so far? Good. (Oh and by the way, this is the same for all other countries, US expected)

    However, rather than suddenly reach for the UK Hosting Directory, Google it seems has now offered a solution to ensure inclusion, by allowing us to associate our sites (and blogs) to a particular country, no matter what domain name or hosting we have.

    As outlined in Better Geographic choices for webmasters:

    Starting today Google Webmaster Tools helps you better control the country association of your content on a per-domain, per-subdomain, or per-directory level. The information you give us will help us determine how your site appears in our country-specific search results …

    So, pop along to Google Webmaster Tools and get yourself associated with the country you are targetting – you can only do so with one at the moment so don’t try to be greedy, but it’s probably worthwhile and certainly if you are not appearing where you would like in your country specific results.

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    As I have been catching up on some reading over the past few days and browsing through links in the articles as is my wont, I found a nice reference by Roy Greenslade in the Guardian Unlimited to an Oslo based blogger called Kristine Lowe.

    In her post earlier this month regarding Andrew Keen’s book, there was a sentence which I felt summed up not only a really important aspect of my own attitude to blogs but also a sound piece of advice to both companies and individuals using the blogosphere, whether they are bloggers themselves or not.

    If the blogosphere has taught me one thing, it is to become a better listener: I love letting the links of blogs I trust or appreciate take me into unknown territory introduce me to new and interesting takes, angles, voices…

    Yes indeed.

    Although important from a personal point of view, it’s also a key element from a business perspective and you may remember that “The Onlooker” (or “The Listener“) was one of the Corporate Blogging Profiles I mentioned, as well as being an important phase when preparing and planning a corporate blog.

    It’s also something which we should continue to do, whether it’s for pleasure or for work, just as we might flip through books or magazines until we find something which catches our eye and we fold over the corner of the page so we can find it again later.

    So I’m going to cut this short today and go back to my RSS Reader – the electronic equivalent of folding the page corner – and indulge in a little bit of listening of my own for a while.

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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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    Swiss Army Knife - Blogging AnalogyRecently, Liz Strauss set out a challenge to those of us who blog – write a blog post using a metaphor to describe blogging to help introduce or explain what blogging is to others.

    In taking up this challenge, I decided to do so looking at business blogs which is where both my interest and my professional focus lies. From this perspective, I would liken a business blog to a Swiss Army Knife (SAK).

    Like the Swiss Army Knife, I consider a Business Blog to be a tool which has 101 possible uses. All self contained, it gives the owner a range of options as to how to use it which will vary according to the situation that they find themselves in at the time. Often, the trouble is understanding all of the possible uses and then deciding which is the most appropriate for a given situation.

    It is something which is easy to use at a basic level but if you want to use it properly then it demands time and attention. When someone has taken the trouble to explore and understand the tool, has discovered how best to use it and has learned from the experience of others, then the results can be excellent. However, in the wrong hands, it could be considered as a dangerous tool to “play about” with.

    But remember, while it is a tool which can do all of these things, it cannot do them all at once. If you try to pull all of the tools out of the knife at the same time, then the result will be chaos and you wont be able to use any of them properly. Likewise, an individual blog should not try to be all things to all people it is at its best when it has focus and is used for a specific purpose.

    And how do I feel about it? Well, like the SAK, whatever it does and whatever I use it for, it remains personal to me – I feel a sense of pride in owning it, using it and maintaining it. I make sure that it is fit for purpose so that it works for me in the way that I want it to and the way that it was designed to. It works for me and it’s personal to me at the same time, and I hope that that comes through in the way that I use it.

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    When companies are looking to incorporate a blog as part of their online marketing then this will involve either integrating the blog into their current website or setting up a separate site using a separate domain name. (More thoughts here on this point)

    If the blog and its focus is likely to be complementary to the rest of the website, then the sensible choice will be to integrate the blog into the site itself, ideally at a graphic and functional level. You’ll also want to make sure that the blog reflects your site’s navigation and menu as far as possible while offering the information and connection opportunities that we are, I hope, familiar with by now.

    However, what I have seen on numerous occasions is that while the blog is there and complete with links back into the other pages of the website, it does not appear in the main menu of the site. Indeed sometimes, there is no link to it anywhere on the site!

    What a waste!

    • Great Marketing: Firstly, it is perhaps the cheapest and easiest form of marketing that you have access to for your blog. The visitors to your website form part of your target market and are already likely to be familiar with your company products. The blog should help to enhance that and help to open the dialogue with them so help them find it, wherever they are on your site.
    • Have Confidence: it also demonstrates either a lack of thought or a lack of confidence in what the company is doing – if you have spent time in planning your blog (Green Cross Code and then answering the 3 KEY questions especially) and writing it, then have the courage of your convictions, put it out there and link to it! If you don’t think it’s good enough to display your name then re-think your blog, don’t just hide it.
    • Consistency: users of websites tend not to like surprises, therefore not knowing that there is a blog but not being able to find it easily will prove highly frustrating for them and result in people leaving the site. Not good for the desired “stickiness” element that most sites look for and that blogs can really help with.

    So remember, if you have a blog that you want to work for you, whether it’s for marketing and PR purposes, as part of your customer service or just as an expert information resource, make sure that the links from the rest of your site are visible and strong. It’ll help your readers find you and that will then help you in return.

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    Spam Comments and how to stop themIt seems that no matter what new online communication tools we come up with, there are going to be those who want to abuse them. Let’s face it, email has revolutionised the way in which businesses and individuals communicate (and the genuine commercial opportunities it offers) but has also been notoriously blighted over recent years by the avalanche of spam messages we also receive.

    Likewise, blogs are open to abuse from individuals looking to exploit them at the expense of others, primarily through the use of Spam Blogs (Splogs) and Comment Spam. For now, let’s concentrate on Comment Spam and see why it exists and how we can go about stopping it on our blogs.

    What is Comment Spam?

    Comment Spam is where a spammer leaves comments on blog posts that have nothing to do with the post itself but merely contain multiple links back to the spammer’s commercial website. Most Comment Spam is now carried out automatically rather than by individuals and its goal is simply to create links back to a target site (and so improve its Search Engine ranking), though it may also attract a small amount of traffic as well.

    If the contents of my Comment Spam filter is at all representative, then the subject matter will be familiar to all of us using email, since the same types of subjects and messages tend to crop up in both.

    How do we stop Comment Spam on our own blog?

    So what are our options when it comes to avoiding having comment spam swamping our blogs, other than turning off comments all together of course – something that I’m certainly not advocating!

    • Comment Moderation
      The most time consuming way is simply to moderate out all of the spam comments – that is to say, you look at each comment which has been left and allow genuine ones to appear on your blog while deleting the spam comments. This can become very time consuming (not to mention frustrating!) because once you are “found” by the spam commenters, you are going to be receiving a lot of these. Rule of thumb – the more successful you are, the easier you are to find and the more you will receive – I imagine with such a high profile blog, Darren Rowse over at ProBlogger suffers more than most, as he comments here.



    • CAPTCHA methods
      CAPTCHA is actually an acronym (ok, since you asked – Completely Automated Public Turing test to tell Computers and Humans Apart – there, now wasn’t that interesting!) but you’ll know it as a distorted series of letters and numbers which appear on the page and that you have to type in. This is designed to prove that you are a human and not an automated visitor – or, in this case, spammer. Typed in correctly, it allows you to submit your comment, but will stop most forms of automated comment spam getting through.



    • Specialist Software Intervention
      Just like with email, there are also providers of specialist software which can help us and here, in my opinion, the leader in this respect is called Akismet. Here, the software identifies the comments that it believes are spam and impounds them – it’s also provided free of charge, except for commercial use, which is an additional bonus. Although it was developed by the company involved with WordPress, it has been modified to work with many other types of blog software so it’s worth checking out. Another plug-in for WordPress is Spam Karma which also comes highly recommended.



    • Getting commenters to log-in
      You can of course elect to only accept comments from people that have already logged in to a registration system which you run on your blog – this way you can be fairly sure that they will be leaving real comments because you have effectively “pre-vetted” them.

    Which method is the best?

    All of the methods above work well from a functional level and will help to avoid the vast majority of comment spam from arriving in your posts. Therefore, when deciding which method to use, I was personally swayed by the impact that it would have on readers wanting to leave genuine comments. Basically, I wanted to make sure that it was as easy as possible for them to do so.

    Therefore, I elected to go down the specialist software route which has no impact on readers leaving comments and nothing additional for them to do – I therefore use Akismet on my blogs and those that I set-up for the businesses and individuals I work with. The results? Well, so far so good. It stops 95% of spam and also learns from all the blogs using it, so keeps up with (if not stays ahead of) the comment spammers and their methods. Overall, a big thumbs up from me.

    BTW - to make sure that you have all the information at your finger tips to make your own decision, no matter which blog platform you use, I’ll be doing a second post on the subject of comment spam next week where I will try to lay out the different options available for each platform. In the meantime, any thoughts you’d like to share on what has worked for you, then please leave a comment – a real one preferably! :)

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    Calls to actionWell, this weekend, I’ve been doing a fair bit of decorating at home in readiness for our imminent arrival at home. This had a couple of consequences: firstly, it reminded me that I’m still no Michelangelo with a paintbrush and roller and, secondly, it gave me the opportunity to listen to the radio rather more than I have done for a while.

    One of the things that intrigued me, apart from the fact that I still recognised a lot of the music, was the way the adverts have developed since I used to listen to radio driving about in the car. The medium has clearly evolved quite substantially since then and become more sophisticated – certainly, advertisers have developed a number of different ways of attracting and holding our attention with their adverts.

    Putting my marketing hat on for a moment, I found it interesting to listen to the way in which the calls to action were done. Of course in days gone by, the only real call to action was to get people to phone for more information. Interactive and immediate. You call, you can ask questions, you can chat to someone.

    Obviously that’s still used but, naturally enough, advertisers have added websites into the mix over the last few years, so we now get:


    Go to www dot la-de-dah dot com for more information.

    Thats okay, but while it’s immediate, its not interactive in the case of most websites. Unlike using the phone, you can’t easily ask specific questions so you have to make do with the information available. Surely what we need to get back to is the interactive element that a telephone call could offer so that we can advance the selling process more quickly? If so, then presumably that’s something that blogs can help us with by providing an online route for the conversation to start to take place.

    The other thing is how to encourage people to visit your site. Rather than a simple go to, how about join us at or visit us or even talk to us at. Somehow that seems more inviting and so more likely to be acted upon. Do you agree? If you do, then what call to action would you suggest?

    Or maybe the paint fumes have gone to my head and I’m just imagining the whole thing.

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    Following up on my post earlier this week which tried to weigh up the relative benefits of having a blog as a separate entity or as part of your website, I thought that I would put a short addendum here to just give an overview of the three main ways (as I see them) of combining a blog and a website.

    There is no “one right way” to do this and the best method will vary according to the situation of the individual oragnisations.

    Directory or folder
    Probably the most common method, where a directory is created which contains the blog and all of the files and information, in the same way that you might do it for any other major section of your website to help with its structure. This would have the format of www.yourdomain.com/blog/ and will probably appear as part of your overall navigation on the site.

    The ‘look and feel’ should ideally be exactly the same as the rest of your website to fully support the branding and because your visitors need not know that they are looking at anything other than another part of the website. The Search Engines treat this as part of your website as well and so the links between these and other pages are treated as internal links.

    Subdomain
    This takes the format of blog.yourdomain.com and then the structure of the blog develops from what is essentially a new homepage. This allows the blog to retain the branding benefits that the main domain affords, but means that it can be treated as a special area and therefore vary slightly in terms of the ‘look and feel’ from the rest of the website. It should, of course, maintain the themes and colours to support the brand.

    From a Search Engine point of view, however, it is treated as a separate site and so will need to build up its links and “online points”, as it were. Nevertheless, because it is on a subdomain, it is easier to incorporate into the main marketing and promotional push than a blog on a different domain would be.

    Website as part of your Blog
    Not exactly an accurate description, but I will explain. This is where the blog software is used as a Content Management System and the website is built as static pages within the blog, which of course is also used to create the interactive blog based section that you would expect. This all works as a single domain and gives the owner the ability to change the website content at will, as well as provide it with all the interactivity that blogs offer and the “sex appeal” that they have from a Search Engine’s perspective.

    From a marketing perspective, the branding and the domain all works together to give a single unified image and there is a totally integrated look and feel. For small businesses, in particular, looking at a website or a blog for the first time, this is likely to become the solution of choice because it offers all of the benefits of a website and a blog in one package.

    All of the 3 ways mentioned above are valid and have their benefits. I do, however, believe that as we move forward, the third option where the website and blog become integrated in a single site with all of the blog’s interactive ability will become more and more the norm. Even now, I believe that it is certainly the best choice for any small business which wants to benefit from blogs, keep costs down and have control over the online website presence.

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    One of the most frequently asked questions when it comes to setting up a business blog, and certainly one which I have been asked on a number of occasions recently, is whether it is better to have a blog as part of your website or to set it up as a separate site on its own domain.

    I would love to be able to give a brief one line response to this, however, I don’t believe that there is one which will fit all circumstances. So, true to recent form, I have to say that the answer to this will depend on a number of different factors, all of which can contribute to the final decision.

    And what are these factors, I hear you ask. Well, the main ones I would look at are:

    • Branding requirements

    • Intended use of the Blog

    • Target Audience

    • Focus of Blog

    • Domain Name Selection

    • Search Engine / SEO Requirements

    • General Marketing Requirements

    If we look at these in more depth, we can see where the tipping points are likely to be in each of the areas and therefore what will influence your final decision:

    Branding requirements
    If you are looking to reinforce your main brand, then keep all the information supporting it together and include the blog as part of your website rather than dilute it by dividing the content onto two separate sites. However, if you are considering a Product Blog to focus on and around a particular product or range, or you are looking at a sub-brand of some description, then these would benefit from having a separate domain and standalone image which would allow real focus and input from users and advocates.

    Intended use of the Blog
    If you want to use the blog for something which complements the rest of your website, such as an FAQ section or an online media centre, then integrating it in the website is ideal, as it will re-inforce and support all your company’s activities. If, on the other hand, the blog needs to present you as an independent source of information and advice, then you would be better to distance it from your website, so that you can be seen as objective in this role rather than as part of the company which has interests in the area.

    Target Audience
    If your blog and your website are designed to appeal to the same audience then, all other things being equal, it makes sense to combine them in one location which gives extra value to your readers and adds to the appeal of the website. However, if the blog deals with a specific area which is directed solely at a particular subset of your website’s target audience (or a different one altogether), then it would be better to maintain it on a separate domain rather than risk alienate customers not interested in that subject. The alternative, and better solution, is to create a series of specialist blogs which offer additional value to each individual group.

    Focus of Blog
    By adding your blog to your website, it will not be able to stray too far from the general topics and direction that the website already has. As a result, you may be restricted in terms of what you can write about, as the blog will be closely connected with the information presented on the rest of the website. A separate domain will give independence from the original site and hence allow you greater freedom in terms of your stance and commentary on issues.

    Domain Name Selection
    Setting up your blog on a separate domain will allow you to choose a new domain name which is specifically relevant to the blogs aims and goals, and which adds to its SEO potential, for example by including your main keywords. On your current website, you would not have this flexibility although you would still be able to choose something relevant either as the subdomain or the directory, according to the set-up you select.

    Search Engine / SEO Requirements
    Putting the blog on your website will add both content and value to it in the eyes of the main Search Engines and its development should increase it status and the number of incoming links to your website, as other blogs link to you. With a separate domain, however, you can set up all aspects properly from the start although you may have to go through Googles “sandpit” which can restrict rankings over the first few months. The links that come into this separate domain can then be focused into your main site and will have additional value because they come from an external site with good quality and relevant content.

    General Marketing Requirements
    You may not have the resources to fully market a totally separate blog which would effectively require its own marketing and promotional activities push. It would, however, create a whole new focus to the company’s activities which would potentially attract a new target audience. If, on the other hand, it sits on your current website, then it can benefit from the current marketing efforts used to promote the website and link from there. Whichever route you choose, you use, you should incorporate blog specific marketing as well as the more general online and offline elements as you promote your blog.

    This seems like a long list and there are no doubt a number of other factors which could be added to it. However, in reality, although the list of factors might be long, there will generally be one overriding element which will end up dominating all of the others. It could be technical in nature or one of the commercial/marketing elements mentioned above but the outcome will be the same – the best solution for you in your particular circumstance will effectively select itself!

    So, how to summarise all of this advice? Take your blog back to basics and examine what was the real trigger moment that made you decide that you needed or wanted to have a Business Blog – look at that reason and what you wanted the blog to achieve and then work forward from there.

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