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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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    Setting up a Business Blog: here are all the key posts


    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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    Business Blog DiaryPrevious Instalment: Part 1 – the decision

    At the end of the day, the decision had essentially been taken out of his hands. Daniel could see that his competitors were already benefiting from the type of industry exposure and customer contact that he had envisaged getting for his own company. And this was coming from their blogs.

    However, this was NOT about keeping up with the Joneses – that would be pointless. To make it work for his business, he knew that he had to have a clear idea of what he wanted to do with the blog and what results he wanted it to achieve for him. He also needed to be clear about the people he was looking to attract to his blog – if he knew that then he could focus on writing articles that they’d want to come and read, and pass on others. This sharing of content was going to be key.

    This was the business marketing side and he felt comfortable with it – after all, it was what he knew and was passionate about. However, he also needed to know how to really use blogs and get the best out of them. How could he engage with his readers, how to set up a blog, what software to use, how to get it into Google? So many questions and much of which he felt he knew little about.

    He had to start somewhere. So he decided to check out what similar companies were doing online and how they were using blogs to promote their businesses. His searches on Technorati and Google’s blog search gave a lot of good starting points – he then followed the links they referred to and added the best ones to his RSS feed so that he would receive their news automatically. He could see RSS was going to be a real timesaver and made a mental note to make sure his blog would offer it too.

    He also used Google to search on “Business Blogging” and that provided some excellent reference sources – the more information he had, the better equipped he would be to get the best results out of the effort he’d be putting into the blog.

    Based on the advice there, he decided that the blog should appear as part of his current website as that would help promote all his other pages as well and that he would integrate it properly. It would give visitors to his site the ability to leave comments and ask questions directly – a great plus in developing closer relationships with them. It would also distribute and promote his information automatically for him, giving his company greater visibility.

    Having looked at the alternatives, he decided that a blog system called WordPress would probably offer the best solution – lots of future development potential and tried and tested on many thousands of blogs. In this instance, going with the crowd did seem to be the best option. He’d need to load it on his own server but it looked straightforward and, during his research, he’d also seen there were people around who could give help if he needed it.

    He felt that his readers would appreciate a constant flow of articles but would probably feel overwhelmed if he tried to send information every day. He planned to post 2 to 3 times a week and worked from that standpoint. He also felt that the he had a handle on the sort of information they wanted – a mixture of industry information, links, informed opinion and an insight into what made him and his company tick. He also wrote out a big “Don’t try to sell!” post-it note to remind himself that the blog was not a direct sales tool. That he knew would just be a turn off to his readers.

    Feeling much more comfortable about the organisation of the blog, it was now time to put that into action, get it set up and work out what elements would be important to make sure it had a successful launch.

    Next Instalment: Part 3 – the launch

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    Business Blog DiaryDaniel was visibly excited – Monday was the day that he had pencilled in for the launch of a blog that he hoped would be the mainstay on his online presence, designed to help develop his business.

    While Monday was the day when the wheels were starting to turn in earnest, it had been some 4 weeks since Daniel had first decided that his business really needed a blog. He’d been noticing a drop off in prospect calls over the previous weeks (perhaps a factor of the credit crunch and the current economic situation) and had begun to feel that he didn’t have as much contact with his customers as he would have liked.

    What was certain was that he was determined that his would not be one of those businesses that didn’t make it through – that much he was very clear about.

    He’d also noticed that blogs were cropping up in lots of different places. Sure he’d seen that the BBC and The Guardian had lots of blogs and he particularly liked reading the comments that other people left on the articles. “You get a sense of what people really think rather than relying one person’s opinion”, he had explained to friends. “It’s more like taking part in a conversation than listening to a speech.” And he preferred that.

    More importantly, he had noticed a couple of his competitors had started blogs and were clearly getting attention because of them. One had even been featured in the main trade magazine which he had been trying to get a mention in! People were also leaving comments on them so clearly they were spending more time on his competitors’ sites than on his own.

    It was this that had swung it for him. He was just as much of an expert as they were, perhaps more so, and yet they were getting all the attention. He needed to make sure that more came his way and so it had been key to find the best way to get that information out in front of his prospective companies. He’d also been reading that it was important for sites to be “sticky” and have ways to encourage people to spend more time on them and he’d been advised a little about optimising his website for Search Engines.

    Lots to do, but a blog seemed to have a key role to play in all of these areas and Daniel was looking forward to see the results it could achieve for him and, more importantly, his business.

    Next Instalment: Part 2 – the preparation

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    Blogging domain namesIgnoring for a second, Shakespeare’s stated belief that “a rose by any other name would smell as sweet”, in the blogging world, selecting a good domain name for your blog can make a great difference to its future success. So take time to consider the possibilities before plumping for yours.

    There are a number of different elements which you should consider when selecting a domain name for your blog. This is of course presuming that you have decided to host it yourself (certainly recommended) and not integrate it into your current website (thoughts on this here).

    For me, as any regular readers will already be well aware (sorry in advance for mini rant), I’d always recommend that you host it yourself rather than hand control over to a hosted service such as blogger.com or even wordpress.com (as opposed to wordpress.org self hosted blogs). If you then decide that there is more benefit in separating your blog from your own website, then running it on a domain name which supports your content is hugely important when it comes to branding and developing both reputation and credibility, whether you are looking at a company, sector, service, product or individual niche.

    Some of the elements that you should consider when making a decision are:

    • Subject matter of the blog: to have a descriptive domain name for your blog will make it all the more memorable for those people reading it and also more memorable when they want to recommend it!

    • Branding elements for your business: you may wish to have a branding element incorporated into it as a special attribute of some sort

    • SEO elements: from a Search Engine Optimisation point of view, the domain name is an important element and so will ideally contain the primary keyword or keywords for the blog

    • Length of domain name: while it is good to have a descriptive name, you should avoid one which is too long and also ideally avoid one with words separated with lots of hyphens which now has “spammy” overtones – something you want to avoid for your business

    • Future requirements: make sure that it is something that you’re definitely going to feel comfortable with in a year’s time. Changing a blog’s domain name is going to lose all the benefits you have accrued so avoid this at all costs by choosing sensibly at the start

    • Top Level Domain: whether it should be a .com, .co.uk, .net etc. As with a normal website, it may well be sensible to cover all bases and take the main ones that are available and so safeguard it from a branding perspective

    • Be legal: just be certain that you are not infringing (or flirting with) someone else’s trademarked or copyrighted name. You may be ok, it’s true, but why run the risk and, as outlined above, lose all the benefits you have amassed if legal sentiments change.

    • Avoid blog: there really is no need to include “blog” in your domain name – the point of the blog is to encourage information sharing and interaction, but there’s really no need to specify that you are achieving this in a blog. Concentrate on the other elements is my advice.

    • Check the past: hopefully, this would never hot you, but you might like to check that the domain name has never been registered before and has been left with a past which might damage your future use of it ie. spamming etc.

    Hopefully, you will be able to find a suitable compromise so that you manage to combine the points which are most important to you – unless of course there is a single factor which overrides all of the others. This compromise would ideally be based on the aims of your blog and also your target audience, two key elements of the planning process you should go through before setting up a business blog

    Dont forget that you also need to find a name for your blog, something which can be in line with your domain name if required. It is important because this is what your readers are most likely to see first on the site, so make sure that it conveys the right message. In addition, it is often automatically incorporated in the “Title tag” of most systems and certainly in WordPress – though of course you can modify this using the excellent SEO plugins available. You should always make sure that you use any opportunity to publicise the contents of your blog and so the tagline of the blog is also important as this appears alongside the blog title in specific search engines such as Google Blog Search.

    Whatever you decide, remember that the name of your blog and the domain name that you choose for it, no matter what your decision, is an important part of the process of setting up your blog, so choose carefully!!

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    Blogging ideas from TwitterLast month, I wrote a post about “Where to get ideas from for your Business Blog” which covers some of the methods that I use and recommend.

    Yesterday, I asked people on Twitter how they went about it and what methods they used to do the same thing. There was a mixture of responses as you might expect, but the main thing that came through was that, understandably, we all draw on our own experiences when we put pen to paper … or should that be fingers to keyboard!

    These experiences may be drawn from talking with clients, reading posts, books or newspapers or indeed from just walking down the street. All around us there are examples we can use which are relevant to the topics that we write about. And, of course, by the very fact that they are our own experiences, we can bring through our own personality and take on things when we write. Exactly as it should be, both for personal and business blogs.

    So the message seems to be, keep your notebook at the ready and your RSS readers primed and you should have lots of content to work with.

    In the meantime, here are a selection of those people who replied on Twitter and added to the conversation. Thanks all!

    ________________




    Ideas for blog posts come from hanging out with the topic, say Calif. wine tasting road trips (mine)!
    Twitter: @winequester | Web: WineQuesters

    Everyday experiences, business knowledge, news programmes & websites, radio and other peoples blogs
    Twitter: @rocketrobin2 | Web: Dolly Char

    Everyday life mostly. I get ideas every time I interact with a business owner or set foot in a retail shop. I also read A LOT. (More comments here)
    Twitter: @originalquill | Web: Original Quill

    I set a schedule of topics for myself and then look for tips and links from my Twitter peeps. I will look at yours as well.
    Twitter: @15minutesaday | Web: 15 Minutes a Day

    I love that you do as I do and keep a notepad with you ! I have been derided as “old-school” for doing that. I see industry news & rip from headlines
    Twitter: @Cars4Causes | Web: Cars4Causes

    Life events are my biggest inspiration.
    Twitter: @justinlandis | Web: Justin Landis

    I use Google News to look for current sports business topics and RSS feeds from other SportsBiz bloggers.
    Twitter: @rscibetti | Web: Business os Sports

    I keep a pad to note Leadership questions posed by clients, coachees
    Twitter: @CoachEva1

    I learned from being a writer to keep a notebook with me at all times. You just never know when that great idea will come.
    Twitter: @weborglodge | Web: News from the North Country

    Setting up Google Alert to your topic can provide some useful things to blog about & keep “up to speed”
    Twitter: @David365 | Web: Confident 1

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    Today, I am focusing not solely on blogging but also on WordPress which, as regular followers will already be aware, is my blogging software of choice for business blogs. Why’s that I hear you ask? Well simply because it lets you run a fully fledged blog on your own website which is easy of use, has great functionality and is expandable. For me, that’s the best way to make sure that your investment in your blogging and your online presence in general is effectively future proofed.

    So where did it start?

    Wordpress started life as simply an open source personal publishing tool used by people wanting to run a personal diary on the web. However, since then, both the use of blogs in business and WordPress itself have developed at a frantic pace – for me, a blog is now an essential tool for businesses and WordPress fills the role of blogging tool of choice for individuals, small businesses and more and more large businesses too.

    What has also happened, though, is that it has also developed beyond being a simple blogging system and is now also an excellent CMS - Content Management System perfect for creating complete websites which business owners can then develop and update themselves as they require. Along with this it still has great Search Engine attractiveness and of course extends our ability to interact with customers and prospects from just the blog area to all parts of the site. This helps immeasurably to improve customer relations which are going to be more and more key for businesses in today’s environment.

    Ideal solution as money gets tight

    If this is starting to sound like a sales pitch for WordPress then my apologies, its really not meant to be. My goal is more to show the benefits that you can achieve by using WordPresss to create your online presence rather than a simple static website – all this at a time when costs are having to be shaved wherever possible and yet a strong presence on the internet is still going to be crucial for developing new business.

    Having a standard website is often the route that small businesses take as they first create their online presence and often its a decision which is taken on cost. The trouble is that it doesnt take into account ongoing costs cost of their web developer to add new pages or change text, cost for further development, or even the costs to add the interaction that customers are not only demanding but now coming to expect.

    Given this is the case, the advantages you can gain are:

    • the ability to add pages as and when you require which develops your web presence and your website content for both customers and search engines alike (which in turn adds to your web promotion opportunities);

    • the chance to interact with your prospects and demonstrate why you are the partner of choice;

    • the ability to modify text on the pages as and when you want to without additional costs or any delay waiting for someone to do so for you;

    • the chance, with appropriate knowledge, to run your own ecommerce section directly from the blog as well as link in with your enewsletter subscribers etc.

    • the opportunity to differentiate your business. When theres less business about to be had the need to stand out and be able to adapt quickly is important;

    • easy and instant dissemination of key information out to sites and subscribers intereested in what you offer.

    Conclusion

    The point that I wanted to get across is that, while WordPress opens up huge possibilities as a blogging platform, it offers so much more than this as well. For a small business needing a strong and developing online presence, it is the perfect tool – having it set up correctly at the start gives an interactive, SEO rich website which can be developed by the owner at will. In addition, with a seemingly never ending stream of plugins being developed, the expansion possibilities are also hugely impressive.

    So whether you are looking at setting up a standalone blog, integrating one into your current website or looking at a full website for your business, take a look at what WordPress can do for you in this respect. And if you have any questions, why not give me a call?

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    1. STOP!!
    Before you rush in and publish your first post on your new blog, stop. Thats right, stop, hang fire, wait, take a chill pill, or whatever phrase you care to use. First, lets do a little bit of thinking and, heaven forbid, planning before we rush over to the nearest free blog site to register an inappropriate name, choose a bland design and start to write things your customers dont have any interest in.

    2. Plan what you want to use it for
    [Sorry to mention plan again so early on] If the answer to this is that you dont know, its just that your competitor has just set one up, then go straight to jail, dont pass Go and dont collect 200. You need to be clear what you want to do with your blog right from the start or else you are quite simply planning to fail and join the ranks of businesses with forgettable (and most likely forgotten) blogs. At a basic level, decide if you want to focus on company branding, or perhaps differentiating your services by writing about your specific expertise or perhaps carrying out market research with it in fact any use other than Well, Im not really sure.

    3. Decide who you want to read it
    Everyone anyone someone?! Try to be all things to all people and the likelihood is that youll fail to appeal to anyone. The best types of business blogs tend to be specific in nature so, if you know who you are writing for, then you should be able to write things that are going to interest them. If they are interested then theyre going to come back and read some more and maybe even pass on the news to others that theyve found a company who really knows what theyre talking about. Sounds like a plan to me! (plan sorry)

    4. Check out other blogs in your market
    When you move to a new neighbourhood, youll always want to visit the area first, have a look at the other houses, see whats going on, maybe talk to some people and listen to what they are talking about. See who people take notice of and who runs the local sports club that you are interested in. You get to know the place before you move in. Do the same with blogs get to know the blogs that already exist in the market you are going to be writing about. Use a Blog Search Engine like Technorati or Google Blog Search to see whos talking about what and how the blogs are being used. You might get some ideas for when youre planning and putting together your own!

    5. Decide what you want the blog to achieve
    And while we are thinking about the blog from a business perspective, how about some targets? You just know someone, sometime, somewhere is going to ask about Return on Investment (particularly in corporate blogs) so make sure you can tell them what you planned to achieve and whether it hit those targets. Youll need to measure the results of course and decide on your criteria – sales enquiries, newsletter signups, referrals, reduction in customer support requests or reader numbers are just some of the ones you could use. In any case, if you dont know what you want to achieve then how can you tell if you are doing the right things?

    6. Decide where to run your blog
    And dont say Blogger! (I still prefer to have control over the information in my blog when its such a key part of my marketing.) My question is really whether you want to have it on your own website or run it from a separate domain? Lots of variables you can take into account but when it comes down to the nitty gritty, if it complements what you have on your website then integrate it; if you want to take a different stance in your blog which doesnt sit comfortably with your main site, then use a different domain. From an SEO perspective, no issue same domain.

    7. How much time to spend on it
    Blogging takes time – there is the research as well as the writing that you need to consider and although there are lots of ways to help streamline this process, the posts still have to be written and you are going to want to maintain the quality of what you produce as well. The posts can take a number of different forms from Foundation posts at the start to long involved articles or simple link referrals – all are valid if they add value to your readers. Anyway, I digress. Plan how much time you are willing to dedicate to your blog, you’ll find it much more relevant than deciding how often you want to post.

    8. How do you want it to work with your business?
    As I mentioned in a recent post, no blog is an island, so you need to make sure that the blog can work with other parts of your business. Plan (damn, damn, damn) how you want it to work with the other activities that you have ongoing or at least that you know how you are going to achieve it. A blog can do lots for you on its own but it can do even more when used in conjunction with the rest of your business.

    9. Check if you really need a blog
    This may sound bizarre given all that I do here to help people use blogs to promote their business, but its a really valid question. Youve looked at the other points above? Have you got answers to them and, with those in hand, do you still want to run a business blog? It’s good to be clear from the start that a highly effective tool when used correctly and worse than useless if you are going to start it with lots of enthusiasm but no planning, only to let it die as soon as that initial enthusiasm wanes. However, if the answer is still Yes, then great – now you can get started properly!

    10. Plan
    As you may have noticed, there is a theme running through all of these elements and that is … planning! Planning, or rather the lack of it, is the root cause of more blog failures than anything else, either because they lose focus in terms of content or business focus, or because the author(s) lose impetus. All things that can be avoided with prior planning. So don’t fall into that trap and before you start your Business blog … stop and do the planning which will ensure your blog is a success.

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    I’d love to be able to describe a blog as an all powerful “magic wand” which will single-handedly solve all your marketing woes. Unfortunately, in spite of what some over eager blogging enthusiasts might have us believe, its simply not the case. What blogs are, however, are excellent tools which sit perfectly at the centre of your online marketing activity and which you can use to drive your business development efforts. Now thats not too shabby, is it?

    The problem is that that, all too often, a business blog is set up and run in isolation within the company rather than treated as part of a larger set of activities. No matter how successful you make your blog, it is still important to consider it as part of the overall mix – any company thinking of running one in splendid isolation is just guilty of actively stopping it from fulfilling its full potential. Running it in conjunction with other activities will prove to be far more effective both for the blog and your company.

    If, as is often the case, the blog is designed to help market the company and its offerings or enhance its branding efforts, then treat it as a part of the overall marketing mix. Make sure to link it with the other activities you are using or even use it as a hub to coordinate them online and gather the responses they generate.

    Ideally this coordination should happen at the planning stage so that the main interlinking set out in advance and all of the marketing strands can work in tandem. If not, then you will find that a blog is flexible enough to be able to adapt to a change in focus and direction later on if required. Employing this approach will give results which go far beyond those you could achieve using any of the activities on their own, boosting your blog and the overall campaign. The diagram above, while clearly only giving examples of the many online, offline and social media marketing methods available, tries to show the type of integrated approach that will produce the best results.

    Likewise, if you are using the blog for Customer Service or Product Development reasons, then again make sure that it is part of the overall process, integrated with your Call Centre, your Developers or your Product Marketing team and not stuck out on a limb under the control of a separate department. Use the information that your customers provide through it and share it with others. Treat it as the tool that it is, rather than a solution to all ills, and you will be able to tap into a collective resource that your readers and staff can jointly add to – you can then in turn make that available to all those who visit and use the blog, both internally to your company as well as externally.

    So, whatever the job you have in mind for your blog, make sure that from the planning phase onwards you run it in conjunction with the other activities you have in the same area. A blog can be a real hub for your customers, prospects and staff alike so dont isolate it connect to it and through it!

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

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

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

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

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

    But – what about the Inbound Links!!

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

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

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

    blog on own site or separate domain

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

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

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    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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