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


    Start or set up a blog: Key question 3This is part of a 3 part mini-series looking at the planning phase of setting up and starting your business blog.

    Each post will focus on one of the 3 key questions that you should have clear answers for as you set up your blog before you start to write it.

    Question 3:
    What do you want to achieve?

    Unsurprisingly, what we want to achieve with our blog is linked inextricably to how we intend to use it and who we are trying to appeal to – the first 2 key questions. If you want your blog to help raise your profile and demonstrate your expertise in your field, then you might be looking to build up references (and hence inbound links) or potential business contacts; on the other hand, if it forms part of your customer service offering, then you will want to see an improved customer satisfaction and reduced customer care calls.

    In both of these cases, though, to get the best results from the blog, we need to both write and develop the blog with a clear focus and goal in mind. It not only gives us direction but also gives us a yardstick to measure each decision about our blog against, whether that’s what topic to post about, changes to blog design, positioning of services etc. If it doesn’t help us to achieve the goal, then perhaps we should be rethinking it. It sounds harsh, but ultimately our business blog is an element of our business and therefore needs to be contributing to it.

    What we need to know clearly at the start is what we want to achieve with the blog and this, combined with the answers to questions 1 and 2, will help us to decide how the blog should look, where key elements need to be located, what to write, how to market it and so on.

    But, what criteria should we be using to see how successful the blog is? Ideally they will be in line with the main objective that you set out for your blog but its necessary to have some way of measuring this. Here are some possible ones to consider:

    • You might consider that it is the number of new or repeat visitors to your blog;

    • It could be the number of comments that you receive on your posts which can indicate the level of interaction you are achieving;

    • Number of subscribers to your RSS feed may be important because you feel this shows active interest;

    • Number of blogs and websites which link to your blog or refer to your articles via trackbacks;

    • Quantity of new customers who get in contact through the contact form on your Blog or specifically the sales generated by the blog either directly or indirectly;

    • Number of sign ups to a newsletter which you have as a marketing call to action

    • Reduction in support or care calls if you are running your blog as part of your technical support or customer service function

    • Number of additional book copies sold if you are using it as part of your book promotion activities

    • Comments and suggestions if your blog is being used as a market research tool or product development support

    • Press contacts or offline articles generated directly as a result of your

    Because the possible uses of a blog are so wide, so are the possible goals you can have and ways to measure them – it’s simply a case of deciding which is the most appropriate for you in accordance with the aims you have for the blog and your business. Bringing them all together should give us a feel for the overall Return on Investment (ROI), at least to a certain extent.

    Above all, have your objectives and goals in mind will help your blog fulfil its potential and deliver the results you want. As the refrain goes, “when you don’t know where you’re going, then any road will do” – so keep a careful eye on what you want to achieve and you’ll make sure you’re on the right road from day one.

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    Start or set up a blog: Key question 1This is part of a 3 part mini-series looking at the planning phase of setting up and starting your business blog.

    Each post will focus on one of the 3 key questions that you should have clear answers for as you set up your blog before you start to write it.

    Question 1:
    What you do want to do with your blog?

    This may seem like an obvious question or rather you may think that the answer to it is obvious. Great! If you have a clear idea of what you want to do with your blog and how it will help your business, then write it down and stick it on your computer screen. Keep it in mind as you write your posts, make changes to your blog and work on promoting it because that sort of focus is going to be all important if you want to achieve the best results.

    It does seem to be the case, however, that many companies (and this applies equally to multinationals as it does to small businesses) still look at blogging as something which needs to be done to keep up with the Joneses. Unfortunately, blogs set up with this in mind often suffer a swift demise since they generally have no real substance, identity or direction.

    Blogging will cost you time and therefore money. In my case, if I am writing posts for my blogs, then I cannot be doing paid work on blogs or online marketing campaigns for other companies, engaging in other marketing activities, carrying out my duties with my accountants hat on etc. So plan what you want to do with your blog.

    Marketing focused blog as an example

    Lets take the example of a business blog which has a marketing focus, one where you are essentially looking for it to communicate your expertise or the benefits of your services or products, and to start to generate interest and trust in them (and you of course!).

    Blog planning

    So to get the right balance and focus in the blog, youll want to incorporate important influences both from within your company and from the market you work in ie. from customers, partners and competitors etc. You also need to look at how it fits in with your other marketing activities and the general direction of the company. If you can incorporate all of these, youll then be developing a marketing tool which will reflect the companys goals, will work in tandem with everything else you are doing and will allow you to communicate with your target audience in as unfiltered a form as possible.

    Other business uses for a blog

    Of course, marketing is just one of the many uses you could put your business blog to and as the focus of your blog changes, so of course will the influences which are important to it. If you are looking at an external blog to support your customer service or technical support activities, then the targeting and format of the blog will change to suit that goal. Likewise, an internal blog to help your internal communications or perhaps one dedicated to pre-sales / sales team information sharing will be different again.

    Other ideas of possible ways to use a blog as a business tool, both externally and internally, might include:

    Blog types in Business blog planning

    But at the end of the day, whatever you decide to use your blog for, it needs to reflect the requirements of both the company and your target audience, and add value to both parties. Do that and you are well on the way to creating a business blog which will prove an invaluable asset to you.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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    Corporate Blogs and how to sink themCompanies are discovering the benefits of communicating with customers through corporate blogs, and are setting them up in ever greater numbers. There are many places now where you can find help in setting up and developing successful blogs – indeed I hope that Better Business Blogging is one of them! However, I have found a dearth of places with practical information on sinking a blog, although the blogosphere seems to be littered with real life examples of dead or dying blogs.

    So I decided that it would be good to post some pointers to help those determined to professionally sink their blog. These have been tried and tested by some of the most expert blog “scuttlers” around so, with pens and keyboard at the ready and without further ado, I give you:

    1. Don’t focus on any one subject area: keep your readers on their toes by switching between posts on “Thermal Dynamics” and who is likely to win “The X Factor” or American Idol. Maintaining a clear focus on your blog will simply attract readers interested in the subject and encourage high search engine rankings for your relevant keywords. A real “no-no” when trying to kill off your blog.

    2. Make sure your Domain name can be misread: ‘Experts Exchange’ may be the name of your blog but you could find that using a domain name of www.expertsexchange.cc results in you attracting readers looking for a very different type of service.

    3. Over-optimise your posts: a keyword-optimised post should contain keyword phrases which are keyword attractive to Search Engines but non-keyword-optimised human readers are less likely to wade through keyword-rich blogs with too many keywords which make no sense. (cf. keyword phrases). Related post: “Keywords for keyword addicts

    4. Always sign your posts with “Lots of Love”: blogs are intended to be personal, so you can never be too friendly with your readers. Adding “xxx” for kisses adds that additional personal touch that sets you apart from other blogs.

    5. Don’t update your Blog: you know that your first post was probably “the best you’ve ever written” or indeed “the best anyone’s ever written”, so don’t pander to your readers’ whims by providing regular information. In any case, youll find that good regular information will only encourage them to come back and recommend your blog others, so stay clear of this potential minefield at all costs.

    6. Avoid pictures - in fact avoid anything remotely colourful. Everyone loves pages of plain text and the more austere it is the better, so don’t mess it up with imagery. Ideally steer clear of new paragraphs as well, one long one is more than sufficient – and you’ll also find that punctuation only distracts readers so do away with that too.

    7. Cater to a Multilingual audience but do so using an online translation tool. You will find that your blog instantly becomes unintelligible in the target language as well as the original. A clear “Win – Win” situation when it comes to confusing readers and chasing them away.

    8. Don’t respond to comments: to be honest, you never meant to allow people to actually leave comments anyway, it was just that you couldn’t find how to disable them. And dont install a spam comment filter either all those “special interest sites” are probably just what the doctor ordered.

    9. Calculate your Blog’s ROI – not a bad idea, per se, but once you have gathered everyone’s opinion on how to do it, decided on what criteria really matter and how to measure them and then finally got stuck into the calculations, you will find that you have no time left to post anything of value.

    10. Use lots and lots of external advertising – there’s nothing like a good game of “Hunt the Post” on a blog, your corporate readers will love it! So make sure you have multiple AdSense, BlogAds and eMiniMalls on your blog although, if space permits, you might like to squeeze in a post or two. The false dawn of hope that your readers experience when they finally find a post is a joy to behold.

    11. Avoid expressing an opinion – there is nothing worse than opinions to get peoples backs up and encourage them to participate on your blog which you will then need to ignore at all costs to dampen the debate. You may find that sharing information carries these same risks as it opens the door for dialogue and discussion, so avoid at all costs.

    With these 11 key rules in place, you will be well on your way to creating a blog which is certainly unattractive and hopefully will not be around long enough to gain any visibility for your company in the market. So cast off and bon voyage!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Why are Post Titles important?

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

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

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

    Where do we see the titles?

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

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

    Post Titles and Title Tags

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

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

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

    This you have to read

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

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

    These 5 Rs are:

    Read - Reply - Return - Recommend - RSS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

    Lots of ways to be recommended so encourage them all!

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

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

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

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

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

    Summary

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

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    Use graphics to help your Business BlogsThere is a lot of talk about what you write on your blog being all important … and of course it is! The title of your posts should entice people to read the post itself and the content itself will do a lot of the work in determining if your blog finds its way into the RSS reader, the favourites file or the proverbial dustbin.

    However, its also important to make sure that the look and feel of your blog (including the individual posts) support and promote the information you’re providing. It’s just like when you’re selling a house – you make sure that you do a “House Doctor” on it and present it in a way that will appeal to potential buyers. It doesn’t actually change the physical structure but it does show it off to best effect. We can do the same with a blog and influence the way in which people react to it as well as how they take on board what we are writing about.

    Make your Blog stand out from the crowd

    So, the way your blog is presented plays a key role in differentiating not only your blog, but also you and your business. After all, thats what we are looking to achieve in business, being noticed so, any way which helps us to stand out from our competitors has to be positive.

    I dont know about you, but when I see blogs which, for example, run WordPress but just use the basic template – you know the one with the blue box at the top my first reaction is that there cant be anything of value there. In fact, I probably write it off as a splog (spam blog).

    Irrational and quite possibly untrue. Nevertheless I just think that someone who cannot be bothered to spend a bit of effort (or a few pounds) to spruce up their blog probably hasnt spent much time on the content either. Others have told me that I’m not alone in this respect. So spend a little time on the design of your blog and your posts, and help the information that you are carefully putting together get read.

    Caveat: try not to get too carried away. Remember that any graphics you include should not be there to distract your readers but rather to help them focus on the information and ideally encourage them to comment.

    Some Graphics Sites to try

    So where can I find good images to support the information in my blog, I hear you ask! Well, at one end of the spectrum, there are the files that come free with programs such as PowerPoint which offer both clipart and some photos which can be used.

    However, these can often be a little bit samey or not in keeping with what you want to communicate with your blog. There are, however, a number of excellent sites where you can find quality images covering a whole range of topics. Most of the good stock photos sites charge a small fee now, but the images are well worth it if you choose carefully.

    Some sites worth a look are:

    A word of caution: as with all images that you use off the net, do make sure that you follow any copyright requirements the last think you want is to have issues with companies claiming ownership of images which you have used legitimately.

    Other ways to break up posts

    In addition to the use of images, there are of course many other ways in which you can help to make a blog more readable. Some you might like to consider are:

    • break up the posts into manageable chunks

    • keep paragraphs shorter than you might do in a written document

    • use subheadings so that people can skim to the place and the information they want if required (better than them leaving the blog)

    • use bullets where appropriate or indeed create a whole blog comprising of a list – while Im personally not a great fan of these posts, they do work well

    If you mix in some of these and incorporate images which help your blog’s look and feel, then you’ll be taking a big step towards encouraging people to read your blog and take on board the information that the posts contain.

    Then of course, it’s just a case of writing something valuable …! :)

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    When creating a successful corporate blog, there are a number of elements which come together to make it what it is. The content itself is key to this, but the words just form the final part of the blog and one which is supported by a number of other layers or building blocks. Together, they help to determine the blog’s focus and its effectiveness.

    The more that I work with companies (large and small) on their business blogs, the more I see how these different layers must work together to give the right results. This is the case whatever the size of the organisation, though the timescales can vary enormously. A large corporate blog may take several months to come to fruition, not because there are additional elements but due to the number of “interested parties” involved. With a small business blog, the decisions are often made instantly and so the timeframe is shorter; however, the business challenges are similar.

    In both business and corporate blogs, the structure and elements involved are made up as shown below.

    Anatomy of a Blog: Layers and Building Blocks

    1. Philosophy Layer
    The foundations of any business blog should include the basic principles of blogging, which hold true for organisations just as they do for individuals writing their own personal blogs. These would include openness, two-way communication, passion, writing with an authentic voice, authority and personality.

    An organisation intending to establish a blog should consider these carefully as well as the business ideals they embrace. If the company culture is one which does not have the flexibility and openness to accept and apply them, then it is unlikely that it will be able to use the blog to its full potential and it may be better served using other online marketing media.

    2. Technical Layer
    The selection of the blogging software to be used forms an important part of the technical layer together with how the blog is integrated with the company website (or set up separately), the internal IT requirements of the company and the hosting structure required.

    The choice of blogging platform can compromise a corporate blogs potential from the outset if it cannot support the elements needed to achieve the blogs goals. To help future proof the investment in time and money, the platform should therefore not only cover the initial requirements but also have the scope to develop over time as the business needs of company and blog develop.

    This might also take into consideration the technical aspects of Search Engine optimization, for example, which should ensure that the blog has the flexibility to allow page level customisation of elements such as title tags, blog tags and metatags.

    3. Business Layer
    Some of the most important decisions during the preparation phase relate to the overall business requirements of the blog and how it will be used by the company. The basis for these decisions will come from the answers to the 3 key questions which need to be answered right at the start of the process, namely what the aims and goals of the blog are, who its intended audience is and what it is designed to achieve.

    The answers to these questions will effectively decide the format and focus of the blog which in turn will dictate who is the best person/people to write it, how often to add posts, how it will be marketed and what impact it will make on various departments throughout the company. All of these elements form part of the business layer.

    Every successful business blog will have a particular business focus which will influence the way that it looks, its focus and the content that it contains. This focus can take many different forms given that the blog could be an internal blog (sometimes called a “dark blog”) serving a company, project or team or an external one used for branding, customer service, product development or any number of customer facing uses. [Some examples of business blog uses.]

    4. Blog Interface & Graphic Layer
    The graphics and branding elements are important parts of this, but they do not make up the whole story. In addition, the layout of the blog needs to be consistent with the business requirements of the blog so that best use is made of the space available to promote the elements which will support its business goals.

    If your business requirements dictate that you are pushing to get subscribers then your RSS and email subscription areas will be very prominent. If there are special offers or specific service areas which are key to achieving the blog’s goals then these should be made highly visible within the layout and design. Some of the other elements relating to the interface and graphic layer can be found in the Business Blog Design Series.

    5. Content Layer
    Last but certainly not least, the content itself. This is the most important single layer because it is the one that the blogs readers are most aware of and it is the content which will attract them back and turn them from “passers by” into avid readers. However, the content only comes into its own because of the interaction and support of the other layers.

    In truth, many companies and businesses tend to concentrate solely on this layer. However, the blog’s content needs to build on what was outlined in the business layer to achieve the right business focus for the company. This content will then be promoted, highlighted and pushed by the elements in the other layers.

    One important, yet often overlooked, part of content element is the specific use of the individual post titles and specific Search Engine oriented elements such as the titles tags, meta tags and general blog tags, all of which should be provided for in the technical layer.

    Summary
    A blog needs all of the different components to be working together to be really successful and, for a corporate blog, doubly so. A blog using a standard template rather than the organisation’s branding will be less effective, as will one built on a platform which makes leaving comments difficult or one that reads like a sales brochure. Equally, a business blog where all the other aspects are in place but which is aimed at the wrong audience will not achieve the success that it perhaps warrants.

    However, with each of these different layers working together, then the results can be excellent. The day-to-day focus can then be firmly on maintaining the quality and focus of the content and promoting it in the right areas to ensure that it can (and will) achieve the business goals it was designed for.

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    Flora London MarathonLast weekend, once again I watched the London Marathon and, once again, felt hugely inspired by those people taking part.

    I was inspired at two levels: firstly, by the thousands of people who were taking part in the Marathon for a thousand individual reasons to achieve personal goals or to do something for others by raising money for charity. And I was also inspired by the athletes in the Elite races, for the most part professionals now, who were competing for the top honours and to win the race itself. Incredible talent, work and commitment.

    It is this mix that, for me, makes the London Marathon and the other major city marathons around the world events like no others as they bring together runners of all abilities, with differing motivations, goals and expectations then giving them a place to express this.

    I am compelled to say that, albeit in a very different way, the blogosphere offers similar opportunities.

    How so? Well …

    • The mix of bloggers for starters. There are expert bloggers – the so called ‘A’ List bloggers – who are trailblazers in many respects and have shown us the way that blogs can be used. There are also those who earn a living from blogging and of course the many millions that write, with varying success, either from a business or personal perspective.

    • People blog for many different reasons – these may stem from the desire to publish their thoughts and raise their profiles in the case of personal bloggers, through to corporate blogs intended to develop prospects, partnerships and sales.

    • Both require Planning and Preparation – to be successful, the hours of practice that the runner puts in is mirrored by the conscientious blogger spending time in researching, writing and publicising their blogs.

    • Cooperation and mutual help is the name of the game – there is an attitude of cooperation that seems to exist between bloggers which is mirrored in the way that they reference and support each other through linking, advice etc. I saw the same community spirit in the marathon with runners encouraging others and helping them to finish.

    • Enthusiasm: blogging is all about expertise and authenticity in my opinion and, at the core of that, is the enthusiasm you need to be dedicated enough to make a real go of blogging, whatever your aims.

    • Practice makes perfect – knowledge and reputation grows over time, so it is likely that a blogger will need to persevere to make an impact and gain the respect of their readers and peers.

    As a result, I believe that the analogy is valid and that the diversity, dedication, commitment and enthusiasm that I witnessed last Sunday is also present in the blogosphere, demonstrated by those who wish to take the medium seriously and/or use it for their own ends.

    It was also a useful reminder, as I close off both this analogy and the comparison, that developing and running a successful blog is much more akin to participating in a marathon than it is to running a sprint.

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