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    Small Business Blogging: here are all the key posts


    One of the key worries that businesses have as they start to develop their blog is what to write about and how best to communicate their messages across to their readers. Effectively, what sort of posts they should write. Well, posts can take many shapes and forms according to the authors inclination and the readers preferences I think the skill comes in matching the two as closely as possible.

    To help the process, heres a list of 17 possible types of posts that you could look at to develop the conversation on your business blog. They wont all be relevant for every blog but they should help to spark some ideas on ones that would be most applicable for you.

    1. Foundation Posts

    Foundation posts are the core posts that your blog should be built upon and which focus on the key subject areas that the blog is going to be talking about. They are likely to be longer than other posts, focused in the content and, more often than not, will contain tips or practical advice centred around your main topics. These are posts that you’ll want to spend a bit more time on and which people should want to refer back to and share, time and time again.

    2. Expertise Sharing

    No doubt a familiar type of post for small business bloggers and a key one at that. These posts will demonstrate and share information on important topics relating to your expertise, with each post focusing on a particular aspect of that topic. The subject will be of direct interest to your readers and should have primary goal of developing or reinforcing the confidence and trust that they have in your abilities.

    3. Lists

    Lists remain one of the most commonly referred to types of posts and hence a very good way of getting a lot of information over in a short space of time. People can dip in and out as they see fit, so these are also the type of post that often gets referred to and shared in places like Digg.

    4. News Delivery / Reporting / News Breaking

    Blogs are a great way of sharing news and information and, because of their immediacy, also for breaking new stories. Unfortunately, few of us are able to be on the spot when we get a scoop but we are able to share news and information that we have found with our readers. While you could simply share a link or story as is, if you want to develop your own relationship with your readers, try to add your own perspective and comments to it when you write about it.

    5. Guides / Instructional

    A “How to” guide is an excellent way of passing on information and creating something which has the ability to go viral. While sharing information in anecdotal form is great, sometimes you just cant beat a clear guide that’s easy to follow from someone who has been there, done it and got the T-shirt to prove it. Think of it like instructions on putting together a piece of furniture from Ikea (hopefully with all the pieces there) and make your “How to” guides the definitive ones for your specialism.

    6. LinkBaiting

    A post which is designed primarily to attract attention and incite people to link to it, hence link baiting. This might be a post with contentious or provocative content aimed at getting a reaction from readers or might be one based on humour. In essence though, it’s sole goal is to provoke a reaction and generate links.

    7. Surveys & Polls

    Facts and figures lend weight to an argument and by using figures from a recent survey or report and then adding your own commentary, you can get your message across with up to date information to support it. Alternatively, why not run your own poll in your post and gather information from the people you really want the opinion of your own readers.

    8. Article Reply

    So youve seen something that caught your attention on some one elses blog or website and left a comment on it but you want to expand on that. Great, write a post which references the original but then goes on to either develop and expand on the points it makes, or to counter them.

    9. Rants

    Never get abusive or personal, but if you write about something that really bugs you and you believe is worth sharing, then this can come over very powerfully in a blog. It adds to the 3D view of you, the person, and helps tell your readers something more about you. Hey, we also like a little bit of Victor Meldrew, letting off steam now and again.

    10. Industry Commentary

    You are going to be well placed to pass on information about what is happening in your industry and how events are likely to effect your readers and other players in it. So make sure that you become the place that people visit to get informed opinion about what’s going on by delivering posts which report on developments in your industry.

    11. Conferences / Exhibitions / Seminars

    A great way of getting across information and sharing with a larger audience is to take information from a conference and report back via your blog. This could be your own conference or one that you are attending as a delegate – beforehand, highlight that you will be there (and willing to meet up no doubt) and then feed back what you found interesting or particularly useful.

    12. Company Specific

    There may be some specific news about your company which will be of interest to your readers, perhaps new capacity, extra staff or additional clients, all of which reflect favourably on you and your business. A constant stream of these might be considered unimaginative and prove boring, but the occasional one thrown in adds to the information pool your readers have about you.

    13. Press Releases

    While not to everyones taste, a blog is also an excellent distribution method for information (using RSS, pinging etc) as well as being the platform for conversation and relationship building. Dont use it simply as a Press Release conduit, but if you believe that it is relevant and interesting to your readers then there is no harm in putting PR information out through your blog as well.

    14. Guest Post

    Ok, perhaps a slightly different angle here, but why not get someone else in to write a post for your blog. Your readers get additional great information on a subject, you can get extra publicity as the guest writer will probably reference it from their own blog and it will add to your reputation in the process. Perhaps a reciprocal arrangement with a number of different authors? [BTW – if you’re looking for guest bloggers, drop me a line! ;) ]

    15. Links Post

    Theres always going to be information that you have unearthed during the course of the week that youd like to share and is useful to your readers, but which doesnt suit a full post on its own. So create a post with a series of links to articles, information sources, new stories etc. with just a short one line commentary on each.

    16. Reviews

    Might be of a book or white paper, or perhaps of a service or product which is relevant to your readers give your own opinion on it and then open it to the floor and get your readers opinions as well.

    17. Video or Podcast

    Its becoming ever easier to integrate either podcasts or videos clips into your posts and they are also a great way to offer something a little extra to your readers. Ideally make them your own but you can of course embed videos from sites like YouTube that you believe would be beneficial. If you put commentary around them (and a transcript for your own) then youll take the SEO on the post up a notch as well.

    Of course, a post doesnt need to fall into just a single category this one, for example, is clearly a list post but I would like to think also falls into the area of expertise sharing. At the end of the day, focus on what will appeal to your readers (you could always ask then what they are looking for!?) but hopefully you’ll find some ideas here to be going on with!

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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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    While there is a growing recognition of the pivotal role that social media can play in business marketing and the key role of a business blogs at the very centre of that activity, I still get the feeling that some companies often wonder whether they could also benefit from this or if it’s just for others.

    Personally, I feel that there are very few cases where businesses cannot gain enormously from using a blog in the key area of interaction with their customers. Clearly they need to focus (and perhaps plan – heaven forbid!) to deliver real results and that, as always, is key. This applies whether they are using the blog as part of their marketing and business development activities, their customer support, their product development or as another key touchpoint. The benefit would then feed back into all parts of the business.

    There are also certain “company types” which would particularly benefit from elements that a blog could give them; a few examples include:

    Companies needing to differentiate themselves: on occasions, professional services organisations have been accused of all having a rather “grey” image, causing them to blend into the background. By using blogs to help break down these preconceptions, companies can really differentiate themselves as well as reveal some of the personalities carrying out the work together with their expertise – this can only help in developing greater trust with your potential clients in a generally very competitive and customer focused environment.

    Companies which rely on their specialist knowledge to attract clients: consistently demonstrating expertise in a chosen field can quickly help to build a positive reputation and encourage potential clients to contact you. Client case studies go part of the way, but displaying both your general and specialised knowledge over a period of time and giving the opportunity to interact helps develop this more than a sanitised case study can ever do. Think of it as multiple case studies on steroids if you like. This is particularly relevant for independent consultants and specialist consultancies.

    Companies which have progressed beyond the hard sell approach: direct advertising and the hard sell has become less and less successful as a business development approach. We tend to be put off by “interruption marketing” nowadays rather than be attracted by it. However, an educational marketing (or relationship marketing) approach, where you provide potential clients with information on which to make their own informed decision on their purchase, has gone from strength to strength. Help your customers decide they want to buy from you rather than go all out to sell to them.

    Companies wanting to become more of a partner than a supplier: engaging with potential clients through your Business Blog helps develop trust and a relationship which can position you as a partner rather than a simple supplier. People prefer to work with and buy from people and companies that they trust – a blog will allow you to achieve this.

    Companies wishing to be THE information resource for their market niche: most of the information that your prospective clients are looking for is available somewhere on the web. It’s just a case of finding it! So rather than let potential clients wander round the web looking for it and perhaps finding it on a competitors site, provide it yourself or provide links to it on your Blog. Become the preferred place to go for this type of information and let this attract anyone interested in your niche to your blog.

    Companies organising conferences, seminars and exhibitions: blogs are the ideal focal point for collating and distributing information to attendees pre-Conference and for gathering feedback from them during and after the Event. You can update the conference details and add new information yourself, and you automatically develop a powerful online Search Engine marketing tool as well.

    Companies looking to develop a network or community around themselves: as a networking tool, a business blog can help in many different ways but one of its most powerful is when it allows the creation of a network of like minded people interested in a particular area. It is particularly positive for the company setting this up and running it because they find themselves at the centre of this network and therefore in a high profile position.

    Companies developing new products or services: customer feedback and input is essential in the product development process. By taking the step to allow this feedback to take place on a Blog, you are allowing discussions and generating ideas which can be invaluable to the process. Added to this, you have a group of people who have contributed to the product and so are likely to be its strongest evangelists and advocates.

    Ah, so many options! What other types of companies would you consider to be ideal candidates to consider using blogs

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

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

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

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

      Informing your readers and Supporting your posts

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

      Business & Blog Promotion

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

      Developing Reputation and Creating Value

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

      Creating Community & Networking

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

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

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    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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    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 2:
    Who are you writing for?

    Unless you are writing a personal blog, and thats really not what we are dealing with here, then you are writing your blog with a business purpose in mind just as we looked at in the 1st Key Question. This in turn means that you are writing for someone, for an audience, who you are hoping will not only read your blog but react well to its content and to you as the author.

    To achieve this, need to be clear about this audience – your readers – and what they are going to expect from you and from your blog. You’ll also need to know how best to go about getting those reactions and building on them. This knowledge needs to influence every aspect of your blog including:

    • what your blog looks like

    • the content of your blog

    • the style of how you write it

    • the length and frequency of the posts

    • how you elicit comments and feedback
    In fact, what you are looking for is to encourage your target audience to engage with you and your blog in what I term the 5Rs:
    • Read: first of all you need to create subject matter which will encourage people to visit your blog and then read what youre writing about.

    • Return: once they have visited for the first time, you have the opportunity to give your readers something theyll wish to read more of, hence encouraging then to return to your blog.

    • Reply: you are looking to encourage dialogue and communication so you must find subjects and a style which encourages them to express an opinion about it and reply to the post.

    • Refer: provide your readers with enough compelling, relevant and interesting content and they’ll want to recommend it to everyone.

    • RSS: encourage them to sign up and receive what you are writing as and when it appears using RSS either directly or via email.
    So just how do you find out what they want? Well, first and foremost, you are as much a part of the target audience as you are the author! Its your area of specialism, so bear in mind your own areas of interest as you write, but a also look at what you are doing and writing with a critical eye from time to time and check you are still on track. In addition, take the time to listen to your readers. Listen to what they are saying in the comments they post on your blog or in the emails you receive from them. When you are at conferences and exhibitions, note down what are the hot topics that everyone is talking about they are literally giving you your killer content posts on a plate!

    But do remember that different blogs have different aims and therefore very different audiences. An internal blog, for example, will be aimed at talking primarily at employees, while an external blog with a customer support focus will need to provide exact information and specific answers within tight timeframes. Of course, the more than you can prepare for this in advance of starting the blog, the better focused and (probably) more successful it will be.

    To take a look at how all elements of a blog come together to fit with the audience it is targeting, Id like to recommend that you take a look at Sony and the two blogs that they launched last year for different parts of their business and for very different audiences.

      1. The first was the Sony Playstation blog which is heavily branded with a very specific topic range and audience in mind which has been attracted in droves to the site. Everything about the blog caters to this audience, their interests and ultimately the games that they are being encouraged to find out about and buy. Language, content and imagery all support this beautifully.

      2. The second was the Sony Electronics blog dealing with a very different part of the business, a very different product range and therefore a very different audience in terms of both interests and priorities. The frequency and content were both targeted towards their expected readers and they responded in their own way which, of course, also needed to be handled correctly.

    In summary, you need to ensure that you are always encouraging your readers to act on an appropriate aspect of the 5Rs. So, make sure that your business blog has a well defined theme and, once you have decided that, write your posts with it firmly in mind (remember keeping your aims on your monitor). Dont forget to use your RSS reader to keep up to date with what is happening in the areas that your blog covers and keeping offering your opinions on relevant and interesting items in your posts. Finally, keep encouraging feedback from this target audience and make sure that you respond to the comments that your readers leave.

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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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    It is great to see articles appear in major newspapers which extol the virtues of blogging and in particular business blogging. This is partly because it adds some additional (hopefully) useful information for companies looking at whether they are going to incorporate it into their own activities and partly because it is always hugely powerful when one information medium sticks its neck out and recommends another.

    So last week’s article in the New York Times entitled Bloggings a Low-Cost, High Return Marketing Tool was a good read particularly with an opening line which states that blogging is widely considered as “a low-cost, high-return tool that can handle marketing and public relations, raise the company profile and build the brand”. Good start point but that’s by no means all that they do!!

    As the article nicely points out, the benefits for small businesses range far and wide but need to be focused in order to be successful. To be truly effective, they need to form start of the business strategy which, after all, is what should be happening with all marketing activities. They can then be used to:

    • demonstrate expert opinion

    • develop a community around the business

    • become a respected source of information

    • create new relationships and partnerships for the business

    • develop greater awareness of the company and the brand

    • show a personal side to the company’s activities

    and many more activities, some of which are outlined in more detail in the document “An Introduction to Business Blogging“.

    There was, however, one small element that I disagreed with. Although I share the author’s opinion that blogs are not for all companies, I do believe that the opportunities they offer are more extensive than most people believe. To use an example given in the article, a restaurant may not consider blogging to be as important as serving great food but it can certainly benefit from the publicity and visibility it can offer.

    After all, blogs are the nearest thing to online Word of Mouth that we have and Word of Mouth is a key elements of a restaurant’s marketing opportunities. Additionally, a blog can also be used to run a ‘customer reactions’ area which can introduce the interactive element to a website, allowing diners to record their impressions, enhance Search Engine rankings and help to generate online word of mouth par excellence.

    The use of blogs is starting to be better understood by both small companies and corporates alike, but we are still only scratching the surface of what they can be used for and help businesses to achieve. Here’s hoping that, in 2008, we can help to push the boundaries even further.

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    SEO in business blogs for rankingIt is an absolute waste to set up a business blog with the sole intention of using it to enhance your Search Engine rankings. If you do, then you will not only be missing out on the important benefits that blogs offer but also jeopardising the success of your own, right from the word go.

    “But I thought a business blog would help my rankings!”, I hear you cry. “Absolutely”, I reply, “it will, enormously so!”

    But that’s not the point. Blogs enable you to do so much more, whether you are using them to communicate with your readers, build trust and connections with both customers and prospects alike, carry out market research or customer service, or indeed any of 101 different business uses that they can be put to. And that’s where your focus, effort and attention should be directed, not simply on helping your Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) efforts!

    If you do these things correctly and keep the content of your blog focused on what your target audience wants then, believe me, the so called “Google Juice” will flow naturally because of what you write and the way you write and structure it, but as an automatic by-product rather than the sole result.

    Ive seen the same issues come to light elsewhere recently as well. I belong to a couple of online business networking organisations and on one of these, Ecademy, there has been a lot of debate recently following Googles last algorithm change. This resulted in the site not delivering page 1 results as regularly as it had previously been prone to do due to its structure and overall page rank. A number of people have commented that there has therefore been a drop in value of the site because of this and have been asking whether it remains worth the subscription.

    My response again is that the Google / Search Engine benefits have to be viewed for what they are an excellent by-product which is great to have. However, the reason for joining a site like that is to help foster relationships with other business people and provide networking opportunities. Thats why its called a Business Networking Club rather than a Google Ranking Club. Google juice is great but that cannot be the main reason for your being there or else the networking element will ultimately die, killing the site with it.

    And the same is true with blogs. Business blogs are great in providing enhanced Search Engine opportunities but try not to focus too much on those or you risk losing everything. Focus instead on your readers in your blog and I guarantee that your SEO desires and requirements will follow.

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