Everything you need to set-up, develop & promote a successful Business Blog

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    Business Blogging FAQs: here are all the key posts

    Well, a timely reminder for myself this week on two fronts – maybe even more.

    I was reading a post about “astroturfing” yesterday in Into PR by Owen Lystrup where Owen commented on a video he had been watching of Seth Godin talking at Google (Aside: well worth a look by the way).

    I was confused.

    While I enjoy listening to Seth Godin and have come to expect the unexpected when he talks, I was still bemused about why he wanted to talk about artificial lawns and how it related to a “permissions business model”. It was only on my third reading that the reality finally dawned that when he referred to “astroturfing”, he wasn’t talking about his artificial grass replacement options, but rather something else. After a little checking, this “something else” turned out to be the dubious PR practice of orchestrating PR activities to make them look like spontaneous “public initiated” events. (Check out Wikipedia or for a fuller explanation).

    Aha! The fog suddenly clears.

    So why this post? Well, I consider myself to be fairly well informed, certainly interested in marketing & PR and generally up to date with what’s going on in the online marketing arena as a whole – and yet I had never heard the term “Astroturfing” before or, as I now discover, that there is an “Anti Astroturfing” campaign and who knows what else.

    It has therefore been a timely reminder to me not to presume levels of knowledge and understanding based on my own experiences, either in my blogging or my workshops. We all have our own areas of expertise. The business people I work with are all very knowledgeable in their own fields, but as we examine the “benefits of corporate blogging” or “the potential of RSS”, it’s important for me to remember that these will be totally new areas for some which need to be explained properly before delving into their many business benefits. Hopefully, my “Astroturfing” experience will remind me of this.

    So two notes to myself:

    Right – now I’m off to the park where there’s definitely no artificial grass or lurking PR groupies to confuse me!

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    Blog Consultant questions: Ask the Blog CoachBusiness Blogging Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

    “How often should I blog?” is a question which always crops up in the first conversation I have with anyone about Business Blogging and one to which I know that they are desperate for a simple answer, whether it is “once an hour”, “once a day”, “once a week” or just “once”.

    However, as you might have already guessed, there are no hard and fast rules for this Jonathan Schwartz posts on his blog at Sun once a week more or less, whereas Darren Rowse at Problogger serves up several posts on a daily basis. Both are well read, well respected and successful.

    What has made each of them so successful is that they have focused in on what their readers want from their individual blogs and provided them with it. They are intrinsically very different but perfectly in tune with the reason why they are blogging, the audience they are writing for and what that readership expects.

    If I were to offer some guidelines, then these are the ones that I would pass on:

    • Post as often as you can without compromising the quality
      Quality beats quantity every time in my opinion. Quality will get you noticed and is more likely to encourage people to develop relationships with you. Granted, a single post in a month had better be really really good, but you get my drift.

    • Post when you have something relevant/interesting/significant to say
      There is a lot of information being pumped out onto the web and much of it fails to make any sort of impact or contribution. So, when you post something, do all you can to ensure that it is worth reading and won’t just be making up the numbers.

    • Post as regularly as you have told your readers you are going to
      If you have made a commitment to your readers then try to stick to it if you need to change it then inform them and then stick to your new commitment. Its all about communication.

    • Post as regularly as your subject area / topic requires
      There are some subject areas where a constant flow of information is highly valued; other topics require fewer posts and more in depth analysis. When you write on your specialist area, judge your own rhythm of posting accordingly.

    Remember that one of the main benefits of a blog is the interaction it allows you with your readers – so use it and talk to them! Actually ask for their opinion on how often you should post and be guided by them (within reason!). Let them know what you are going to be doing and, if that changes, communicate that as well. If you won’t be posting for a while (and we all need a break from time to time), then let your readers know rather than just leaving the last post hanging unceremoniously.

    And dont forget that writing does not have to mean publishing you can write and then edit your posts over a number of days before ultimately pressing the publish button. Give yourself the time to hone and refine certain posts if you feel so inclined; alternatively, if you are feeling particularly creative, write a number of posts at one sitting and then schedule them to be published in line with your normal rhythm.

    Does this lose a little bit of the spontaneity of blogging? Perhaps … but better that and keeping the quality of your content high than pumping out average posts for the sake of publishing daily.

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    Spam Blogs or Splogs
    Following in the footsteps of other successful communication media such as email, Blogs have also suffered at the hands of spammers wanting to use them for their own ends without consideration of the detrimental impact this can have on others.

    As a result we have seen the rise of Spam Blogs (otherwise known as Splogs) which have partly clouded the real business benefits on offer from genuine Business Blogs. While not yet the menace that email spam has become, they are both annoying and potentially damaging as they clutter the blogosphere and search engines with valueless content. However, they do warrant further explanation as to what they are and why they exist at all.

    What are Spam Blogs and why do people use them?

    Spam Blogs or Splogs are generally created by automated software robots and are created solely to tap into a blogs appeal to Search Engines, rather than to provide new or even useful content for their readers. This is done for one of two main reasons:

    • to gain higher Search Engine rankings for the pages which then display numerous links to a target website in order to boost the target’s apparent popularity and Google PageRank;

    • to gain higher Search Engine rankings in order to then benefit from AdSense or other onsite ad based marketing and create revenue for the splog originator;

    NB This second sort should not be confused with the many thousands of real blogs which offer great information and insight which also contain AdSense to legitimately create potential revenue sources.

    The reason for using Blog technology is that, since companies such as Blogger offer free set up and hosting, they are both easy and cheap to establish. It should be said, however, that Blogger has cracked down strongly on Splogs (with unfortunately other genuine bloggers getting caught up in the fallout) particularly after a wave of splogging at the end of 2005.

    What form do Spam Blogs take?

    Spam Blogs, from what I have seen, take one of two main formats.

    • The first is simply a series of pages which are filled with keywords through a string of meaningless posts in order to achieve pages which are heavily focused on a small set of keywords.
    • The second is one which uses a series of randomly posted articles which have either been illegally taken from real blogs or websites (either via “scraping” or using RSS) or which use legitimately published articles from one of the many articles directories which exist.

    Why are they bad?

    From a Business Blogging point of view, they have a negative impact primarily because they add no real value and so muddy the waters by creating prejudice against real blogs. Over time, this has the possibility of devaluing the use of blogs as a marketing and communications tool, and alienating new potential users of the blogosphere.

    In addition, they can skew Search Engine results (which is in no-one’s interest), are likely to cause issues in the world of Search Advertising and may cause more general problems in blogosphere if the Blog Search Engines are not able to keep them out of their indexes. Clearly, there is also the issue of plagiarism and splogs which illegally using other peoples articles may well be contravening copyright law.

    Can we do anything to stop them?

    Well, as consumers, when we spot them we can avoid clicking on any of the Adverts which generally proliferate on the splogs if they are not generating income then they are worthless to the originator. If you want to take it a step further then you could click on the ‘Ads by Goooogle’ link and then ‘Send Google your thoughts on the Ads you just saw’ to make a spam report.

    A more active process is to report them to the Search Engine which has them in their index, but this is ultimately going to be a thankless task. It is really the Search Engines and the free Blog providers themselves which need to keep their own houses in order and close the loopholes which allow Splogs to be created automatically.

    Other types of spam on blogs

    There are two other ways of spamming on blogs, the most common of which is Comment Spam. This is where comments are left on the posts which merely contain links back to a target website or use the link embedded in the author’s name. The other is Trackback spam which has the same aim but using trackbacks rather than comments.

    Many Bloggers have negated this by making the comment links no-follow which means that the Search Engine linking benefit no longer exists. However, most comment spam is automated so this does not stop the comments some might also say that it penalises people leaving real comments by breaking some of the social linking which blogging is based on.

    Much more effective against this is to use comment spam software such as that which is provided by Akismet (free to non commercial bloggers) which is excellent. It will also save you having to moderate large amounts of spam comments if your blog is set up that way.

    At the end of the day, Spam Blogs offer no value to anyone except (possibly) the spammer – this is not the way we want things to go, so it is in all our interests to do what we can to help stop this from getting out of hand.

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    Blog Consultant questions: Ask the Blog CoachBusiness Blogging Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

    Q – You recommend that you should have full control over a Business Blog and therefore that a hosted service like Blogger be ideal. Why is that and how can I move mine from Blogger to WordPress?

    A – Yes, you are right. Just to clarify, I have nothing against Blogger for personal Blogs – in fact, it has done an enormous amount to open up this opportunity to more people than ever before.

    However, I maintain that a business needs to have control over something as important as its own Blog which it has invested time and effort in planning, developing and promoting. In addition, there have been instances reported where blogs on Blogger have been mistaken for spam blogs (so called splogs) and deleted. For this reason, you have to work with a blogging solution where you have total control your own information and access.

    You will also find that a system such as WordPress offers some incredible opportunities in terms of Search Engine Optimisation and information gathering which will help you to achieve better Search Engine rankings and higher level of visitors and subscribers. At the same time, it offers much greater potential for future development with the plug-ins that are available and so “Future proofs” your investment.

    To turn to the second part of your question: the process can be relatively painless depending on the complexity of what you want to do. The latest release of WordPress (version 2.0) has a transfer program built in so if you are setting up a new WordPress blog then most of the work is done for you. You can find the process in the “Options” section of the WordPress interface and it will guide you through the process. Its as simple as that!

    There are two other elements which you should consider: if you want to retain the type of look and feel that you had with Blogger then you will need to customise the WordPress template but here as well you would have a great deal more flexibility than before. The second element is ensuring that information indexed previously by the Search Engines still leads to the correct articles. If you had Blogger appearing at your domain then this should be possible by recreating the same permalink structure.

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    Blog Consultant questions: Ask the Blog CoachBusiness Blogging Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

    Q – Can business blogging be effective for local companies or is it only for national and international companies?

    A – Blogging should certainly be a consideration for any company, whatever its geographic coverage. For companies with a national or international target client base, then the advantages are obvious both in terms of reach and coverage that a blog can offer. For local companies, the issues remain the same in terms of needing to reach a certain audience, it is just the size and geographic spread of this audience that has changed. Therefore to be successful, the focus of the blog posts need to change as well to accommodate this.

    Since so much searching for local services and suppliers is now done on line, it is likely that you will want to make sure that Search Engines will rank your posts as highly as possible for people searching for your products in your local and regional area. So when writing, ensure that you include references to these places alongside those on your products. For example, if you are a florist based in Richmond then your post would not just mention “flower bouquets” but rather “flower bouquets for Surrey from Richmond upon Thames based Flowers4U”, thus making sure that the geographic references were included alongside those of flower arrangements themselves. If you include these in the title of the post then this will help further.

    To complete this, you may also like to intersperse the blogs with local news so that in the Category sections and the other main pages, there is an equal spread of posts relating to different flowers and flower arrangements as there are to references to local names and places. Guaranteed to help boost your rankings and get you found by a local audience.

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    Seminar FAQsBusiness Blogging Frequently Asked Question (FAQ)

    Q: Where should I host my blog? Is a hosted service better or should I host it myself?

    A: When it comes to a Business Blog, we would always recommend that you host it yourself for the simple reason that it gives you most control over it and allows you to make any changes that you may require.

    Hosted systems such as Blogger are great for personal blogs because they are free and because there is very little for you to do except start to write. They do come with a risk though, as there may come a time when you want to do more with your blog than can be done with a hosted system of this type, at which point it is very difficult to move all of your content across to your new blog. Even making permanent (301) redirects so that people can still find all of your content that has been indexed is not possible on some of these blog systems, which will make for a lot of frustration.

    There have even been cases reported where proper Business blogs have been mistaken for spam blogs (splogs) and had their content deleted. Not a good situation! As we point out in the Business Blogging email course, making the right choice in terms of your blogging platform is a key early decision.

    If you do decide to host it yourself, you have a second decision to make whether to select a new domain name and run your blog there or whether you should incorporate the blog into your current website. Both options have merit. If it deals with issues which are distinct from those that you talk about on your main website then it may be sensible to select a relevant domain name and separate the two. However, by incorporating the Business Blog alongside your other content (and integrating it graphically into the look and feel of the site) then you can use it as a complementary means of engaging with prospects and customers, and so enhance the positioning of your business through it.

    Both of these hosted options are valid but overall, primarily for reasons of control and security, we would recommend that you steer away from hosted services for your blog when it is going to be such an integral part of your business.

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    Seminar FAQsThe posts in this category will be a selection of those questions that we get asked most frequently with regard to setting up a Business Blog or a fully fledged Corporate Blog site and which warrant a short answer all of their own.

    Where relevant, we will add links to other posts on the Better Business Blogging site and other relevant blog information sites.

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