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    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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    How many hats do you wear as a blogger?Do you run your own business blog? Then you are amazing, absolutely A M A Z I N G !

    Whys that I hear you cry? Well, just think about all the different activities that go into developing and maintaining a successful business blog. Larger companies will probably have a small team working on their blog or blogs but you have to run it all on your own. And you manage to do it usually without even realising all the things you are doing automatically and the different hats that youre wearing.

    But if we break it down, its really quite impressive!

    • Researcher: keeping an eye on the RSS feeds and Google Alerts can help speed up your research as you plan and build your own posts. Phew – a full time job in itself.

    • Writer: right at the centre of everything, there’s the writer in you who actually puts pen to paper and without whom you just don’t have a blog!

    • Storyteller: no, not in the sense of “telling lies”. Shame on you. People love stories so if you can convey your message as a story when you write it, that will make it all the more memorable.

    • Editor: some tough decisions sometimes have to be taken to keep the writer in check, so you’ll need to have an editor in you working hard to keep the writer on the straight and narrow.

    • Expert: with the research done, you let the expert in you come shining through to add the depth to the post.

    • Project Manager: well someone has to keep the whole thing together!

    • Designer: you need to have the blog looking the part in order to support your business goals. Luckily there are some good templates available and, if you can’t do it yourself, people who can help you to stand out from the crowd.

    • Techie: with your technical hat on, you may want to get “under the hood” which for WordPress would include the set up, adding plugins etc. Even with the other systems, understanding how a blog works will allow you to make your blog more targeted to your readers.

    • SEO expert: with Search Engines a key consideration, make sure that you think about optimising certain aspects of your blog as part of your online marketing. Even if it’s just “Title Tags” and ‘friendly’ permalinks it’ll help.

    • Social Networker: or at least a networker. Offline it’s a great way to develop awareness and contacts, while online by your contributing to other blogs, it helps immeasurably to raise profile and awareness.

    • Market Researcher: you need to make sure that you are writing on topics that your readers are interested in so make sure that you carry out market research. Start by simply asking them. :)

    • Marketer: you’ve created a great blog so now get out and market it. And don’t forget that you need to do offline as well as online.

    • Diplomat: sometimes you’ll get comments on your blog which aren’t so favourable but be the diplomat, argue your position and remain your persuasive (but polite) self.

    • Businessman: at the end of the day, your blog is therefore for a business reason, so make sure the businessman/woman in you doesn’t let you have flights of fancy which aren’t helping those goals.

    • Strategist / Planner: you’ll want to make sure that the blog is heading in the right direction and that it’s developing properly, so keeping developing the plan of where it’s going and how it’s helping your business.

    • Housekeeper: sometimes there’s a lot of extra jobs you need to look at to keep the blog in order so try to tidy up loose ends when you spot them, answer comments, update software etc.

    • Accountant: though it pains me to say it, keep an eye on the bottom line even with a blog. There are costs involved and the main one is your time so try to remember that you’re looking for a return on your investment of time here.

    • Analyst: don’t forget to keep a check on what posts are attracting most readers, where you are getting referrals from and whether you are getting the search engine positions you wanted. Once you’ve analysed it you can do something about it!

    • Therapist: just in case you are feeling a little schizophrenic by now! ;)

    So how manys that? I think I make that 19 in all and doubtless, youll be coming up with lots of others.

    Dont panic, I know it sounds daunting …. and, in a way, it is. But don’t forget, that you don’t need to do it all yourself if you don’t want to. Some aspects you may decide not to bother with, others you’ll link up with other people to work on together and with some you’ll perhaps get an expert in to help.

    But the main thing is that you are already doing it, you’re out there communicating and connecting with readers, prospects and customers in your blog and that’s hard work in itself. So, after all that effort and hat changing, may I suggest a quiet moment and a cool drink might be in order – and maybe I need to add Bartender to the list as well.

    Image Photographer:Lisa F. Young | Agency: Dreamstime.com

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    Business Blogs and TagsShould you be looking at upgrading? Well, WordPress is maintaining quite a rhythm of late in terms of new releases – these can often be time consuming if you are trying to maintain several blogs with up to date software as I am for the people I work with. However, I digress as ever! :(

    WordPress 2.3 Overview

    This version does seem, however, to be well worth the time and effort. From a purely business perspective, there are a number of elements in this latest version which are of particular interest to me, primarily the canonical URLs and tagging elements which I’ll explain in more detail below. But let’s a have a quick recap of all the new things going on first.

    The main additions in WordPress 2.3 are:

    • Tagging: native tagging as they call it which includes tagging in the main software rather than relying on 3rd party plugins (see below)

    • WordPress and plugin updates: lets you know when there are updates available either of the main WordPress software or of the plugins that you have installed

    • Canonical URLs: lots of good stuff here but hugely uninteresting reading. It is, however very useful in terms of certain aspects of Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) which I’ll try to explain later

    • Pending Review: allows you to run a blog with multiple authors much more efficiently as you are notified when new posts need reviewing

    • Advanced formatting when writing blogs: some additional features which had previously been hidden
    (The full list can be found on the WordPress Blog)

    Tagging

    Ok, so why am I getting even vaguely excited about tagging? Well, tagging is a way of bringing out the keywords in the post that you have written – effectively it allows you to add tags or ‘labels’ to your post so that you can classify the principal content areas yourself without relying solely on Search Engines to decide what you’re on about and therefore make an “educated” guess on your behalf.

    It’s true that the categories function in WordPress offers a way to do this but this, for me anyway, is more structural than anything else. I use categories to help readers identify start points for their research. Tagging will add an additional dimension to that and will give extra flexibility to it which is great – I believe that they are certainly complementary.

    Personally, I already use a plugin called <a href="http://dev.wp-plugins.org/wiki/BunnysTechnoratiTags" target="_blank"Bunny Tags</a> to do some of this (another excellent tag plugin is <a href="http://www.neato.co.nz/ultimate-tag-warrior/" target="_blank">Ultimate Tag Warrior</a>) but the chance to deliver tagging in the main software will help to develop this area further. I would expect to use this element much more extensively in the future and that tagging will be more 'visible' in Better Business Blogging.

    For more information, a nice explanation of categories and tags can be found at <a href="http://dougal.gunters.org/blog/2007/09/22/tags-and-categories-in-wordpress" target="_blank">Geek Ramblings</a> (thanks to <a href="http://www.nevillehobson.com" target="_blank">Neville Hobson</a> for the link).

    <h5>Canonical URLs </h5>
    Oh dear - I somewhat regret mentioning these earlier but let me try to explain. While it's not ALL to do with the concept of 'duplicate content', that is at its core. Bear with me for two minutes on this and then you can sleep ... or watch the latest instalment of <a href="http://www.nbc.com/Heroes/" target="_blank">Heroes</a>.

    Google likes unique content because then it can direct its searchers to THE best page for what they are looking for. However, when two (or more pages) show the same content Google suffers and has to decide what to do with the content and how to rank it. The trouble is that sometimes we create "duplicate pages" without actually knowing it. For example, www.betterbusinessblogging.com/ with and without a '/' or with and without the 'www', all count as different pages ... and hence potentially fall into the 'duplicate content' game. What we want to do is really have all of them point at the same place and be counted only once. The changes here should help to address exactly this problem.

    The WordPress change should essentially take away all these other "pages" - the fact that people generally didn't know they existed in the first place, I guess means that this change will mainly be appreciated by SEO interested parties. However, it is, in fact, important.

    <h5>Summary</h5>
    Well, as any regular reader will already know, I am a great fan and advocate of WordPress and the additions that they have made here in their latest release do nothing but strengthen my belief that WordPress remains the best blogging software for companies wanting to future proof their blogging investment.

    My advice: well, ever the cautious one, check the feedback as it comes in and when it is confirmed that it's stable and you have checked your plugins work, then upgrade as it looks worth it.

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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 Design SeriesWell, this may not have been the quickest series that I’ve ever written, but over the past weeks I’ve written a series of posts looking at some of the business elements to consider when designing a Business Blog.

    As I’m no graphic designer, I’ve been focusing on blog design in terms of how to use the layout and key components of your Business blog to your best advantage from a business perspective.

    Anyway, here are links to the posts all together.

    Business Blog Design: Initial Post
    Business Blog Design: Profile and Contact Details
    Business Blog Design: Navigation and using your Content
    Business Blog Design: Generic Blog Templates
    Business Blog Design: RSS Feeds & Subscriptions
    Business Blog Design: Onpage Advertising
    Business Blog Design: Comments
    Business Blog Design: Categories, Archives and Search

    Do let me know if they’ve been useful and also what other things you considered when you set up your own blog and perhaps they can be included in a follow up post.

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    Business Blog Design Series[This is part of a series following on from a post called “Business Blog Design“]


    One of the key elements which makes a blog easy to use (as an author) and to navigate (as a visitor) is the fact that it is self structuring and self organising. The main way this happens is that posts are automatically stored in both Categories and Archives. However, even aspects like these can be used to our advantage if they are used properly.

    Categories
    Essentially, the categories on a blog allow you to organise your posts by filing them into various folders according to their subject matter. From a usability and navigation point of view, this has three main results:

    • it makes it easier for people to find what they are looking for either browsing through the subjects covered by the blog

    • it allows them to go directly to an area they are interested in

    • from the author’s point of view, it gives us the chance to try to direct their investigation of the blog rather than just let them search blindly.

    If I take the example of my own blog as well as those that I monitor for others, I find that the categories are where readers tend to look first when they explore the blog further rather than turning immediately to the Search function. So if we can get the naming and positioning right, then this is really going to help to increase the areas and posts which get explored.

    The choice of Category names is also important and has an impact both with regards to our readers and also to search engines. It impacts in a number of areas namely:

    • Visitor focus – using clear names allows readers to get a quick view of your content and focus just by scanning your category names;

    • Friendly Permalinks – with certain permalink structures the category name is included, so make it count by covering your keywords in your category names;

    • Category Headings – these are included at the top of the individual category pages usually in a ‘header tag’ and then of course relevant content follows below in the posts in that category. Great focused search engine content.

    • Anchor text – the anchor text is the word(s) which make up a link. In your blog, the category links on every page point at your individual category page with relevant keywords as anchor text – Search Engines give added weight to this.

    • Keywords on page – as well as everything else, just having the category names (and the keywords they contain) on each page is going to be beneficial!

    Basically, category names need to be descriptive (there’s no getting away from that) but at the same time they should naturally include your primary as well as secondary keywords.

    Don’t forget, that if you are using WordPress, then you can have subcategories as well as the main ones. This can be of use if you want to have different divisions on your page such as Geographic areas and Business areas because you can split your categories automatically into separate lists.

    Archives
    The Archives are another ever present feature on blogs although they come in a variety of forms, primarily monthly but also sometimes weekly or in calendar format. It’s good to keep them on the blog but I don’t recommend that they feature prominently, simply because visitors are less likely to search by date of posting (unless it’s something very specific) than they are by topic.

    A long list of archives can sometimes help to give a feeling of gravitas and substance to a blog, though really this should come out in the writing in any case. Therefore, so as not to clutter a sidebar which could be used for other purposes, there’s no real need to give direct links to more than 12 – 18 months worth.

    There is also a school of thought which says that it is better not to allow indexing of archives by search engines because they just end up in the supplemental indexes and clutter the results. Personally I’m not in favour of doing this, though I agree that the robots.txt file is the best place to control it from – however, I am in agreement that the calendar display formats can cause problems and hence recommend avoiding them where possible.

    Search
    While I find that many people dont use this function, often preferring to navigate using the categories, it is nevertheless one that most people are familiar with and would expect to see on a blog or a website. It particularly comes into its own when they are looking for something specific and when the blog has grown to contain a large number of posts or perhaps a particularly large number of topics.

    Make sure that the Search function delivers as much of the functionality that they would be used to as possible … and, let’s face it, that experience is likely to be based on Google. Particularly, try to make the results page as familiar to users as you can as it will help them explore your blog.


    Make use of all opportunities available to help your visitors find the content they want and also to attract those Search Engines!

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    Business Blog PostsI am confused.

    This wont come as a shock to some of you who know me and have watched the increased addling of my brain through sleep deprivation caused by fatherhood. Just at the moment, though, I feel wide awake and a little bit peeved (yet still confused) by Jakob Nielsen’s latest offering “Write Articles, Not Blog Postings“.

    As you might imagine, I was intrigued by the title, so I started to read. The summary of Nielsens article states:

    To demonstrate world-class expertise, avoid quickly written, shallow postings. Instead, invest your time in thorough value added content that attracts paying customers.

    So far so good. I agree totally – this is the basis of a good focused business blogging strategy, particularly for consultants, topic experts and professional services companies such as accountants and lawyers. Value added content is the perfect way to develop and enhance your reputation as well as encourage the spread the word about your expertise – in the same way, a blog is the perfect way to publish and distribute this information and engage with the people interested in it who respond to your ideas.

    So where’s the issue?

    Nielsen continues that “Blogs are … fine for websites that sell cheap products”. From this, there is a very clear implied conclusion that blogs are not fine for other types of website – though why the link with websites at all, I’m not sure.

    In any case, patently not true.

    Blogs are communication vehicles to be used as the author sees fit. To link them to low value products shows, I feel, a narrow and outdated view of how blogs can be used in business, ie. an approach which concentrates purely on search engine rankings as his Pistachio nut example does. Good search engine rankings should be the expected byproduct of any well written blog on a certain subject, rather than the main goal. The main elements should be the conversations and the connections they generate as well as a focus on community and collaboration.

    It was at this point that I started to wonder whether Nielsen might just be being ironic. Was he perhaps using this long article as an exercise in linkbaiting, a concept more normally associated with the short posting that he dislikes?

    I read on.

    “Blog postings will always be commodity content: theres a limit to the value you can provide with a short comment on somebody elses work.”

    Arghh! So all blogging is commenting on somebody elses stuff? So who does produce the content in the first place, only people and companies who don’t blog? I’m well aware that I am using a blog post to pass comment here, but that is only to support my stance on the use of corporate blogs in a business environment, which I do in the other articles that I offer here and in other forums.

    A mixture of content and post types is vitally important. If you are looking to show expertise in an area, then you do this not only through new thinking (leading edge if you like) but also through an understanding, appreciation and indeed appraisal of other ideas and debates in your field.

    Ok, a few deep breaths and I’m feeling calmer, just calm enough to write that I feel very insulted by the distinction that Nielsen makes between his interpretation of articles and blog posts. Perhaps he should read more blogs? Personally, I find that I am drawn to those which are indeed in-depth with original content and driven by the author’s expertise, all of the attributes that he considers blogs to be devoid of.

    Rant over. I would have liked to had the opportunity for an open discussion with the author about his article but, as you may have guessed, he doesn’t use a blog so that is a bit of a conversation stopper.

    However, I’ll finish by saying that, for me, blogs need to be written with their audience in mind and that they should therefore include posts of all types, from indepth articles, to commentary on others’ opinions, to links to useful resources and news articles. It is in this way that we best show our expertise and engage with others, and also the way in which we raise the profile of our business and develop its reputation.

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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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    Business Blog Design Series[This is part of a series following on from a post called “Business Blog Design“]


    Being able to open up a dialogue between author and readers by leaving comments is one of the key aspects of a blog and one of the elements that make them as effective as they are. They open a door onto the interactive side of the web and give the opportunity to engage with people, start conversations and create connections.

    However, just as in the real world, its important to show that you are willing to talk with people rather than turning your back on them (proverbially or otherwise) or give the impression that you are unapproachable and arent looking to engage with them.

    Allow and learn to love comments
    You should always allow people to comment on your blog, unless you have very specific reasons why not at the same time, you should make sure that you have the ability to deal with the comments that come back. I dont just mean in terms of time (for most that will not be an issue – and if it is, it’s often a good one to have!), but also in terms of responding appropriately.

    Whether the comments you receive contain information, praise or criticism, you need to deal with them openly and correctly. You can achieve a huge amount by doing this, gaining respect in the process, especially when responding to negative comments. You will also encourage additional comments by the way that you have dealt with previous ones, so take the time to do so.

    Actively encourage comments
    Creating dialogue through getting responses is a key element to a successful blog, so dont sit back and wait for comments help to initiate them, either on your own blog or on those of others. Dont be afraid to openly ask for comments you should feel comfortable enough to encourage or challenge people to reply, or ask them for information. Basically, start that conversation!

    You can also encourage comments simply by the way that you write, either through inspiring people to respond, goading them or by opening up a discussion on an area that you know people will have an opinion that that they want to express. Some other ways might include:

    • Asking for opinions in general or asking a direct question at the end of your posts;

    • Challenging people to put their point of view forward on the topic;

    • Writing in an open ended style which allows people to add further thoughts on the topic rather than consider you’ve covered all aspects of it;

    • asking for additional information to help build up a bigger collection of thoughts and ideas on the subject

    • Running a competition (prizes help encourage participation!)

    • Starting group writing projects such as a Metaphor for Blogging

    • Drawing attention to comments made either by referencing them or by displaying “Latest Comments” in your sidebar

    Make it easy to comment
    We want people to comment, so make it easy for your readers to do so and don’t put barriers in their way which may put them off. Probably the biggest barrier in this regard is where you ask people to register before they can leave a comment – while I recognise that comment spam is a very real issue, there are other ways around this which will not impact on the relationship between author and reader.

    How to deal with them
    You should try to respond to the comments that your readers leave where appropriate – in most cases, you are looking to engage with the people who leave comments, so if they respond and ask a question then make sure that you reply to it.

    Of course, there will be cases where the comments will not be favourable this is to be expected. You cannot please all the people all of the time. You should still try to respond to their points and present your point of view – its best not to ignore this type of comment because at least on your blog you have the chance to put forward your side. Elsewhere, negative comments will go unanswered. You will also often gain greater respect by handling objections with grace and tact by doing it this way.

    How to avoid Spam Comments
    Spam comments appearing in our comment section doesn’t give a good impression, but luckily there are a number of ways to avoid this. So what are our options – other than turning off comments all together, which I don’t advocate.

    The main ones you might consider are:

    • Specialist Software: like email, there are providers of specialist software which can help us and here, in my opinion, the leader in this respect is called Akismet. It identifies the comments that it believes are spam and impounds them – free of charge, except for commercial use and very good.

    • Comment Moderation: moderating out spam by looking at each comment which has been left and allow genuine ones to appear on your blog while deleting the spam comments. This can become very time consuming (not to mention frustrating!)

    • CAPTCHA methods: this is the distorted series of letters and numbers which appear on the page and that you have to type in to prove that you are a human and not an automated visitor. Good but a bit of a barrier to readers.

    • Registration: only accept comments from people that have already logged in to a registration system which you run on your blog secure but can dissuade people from commenting.

    Designing your business blog to encourage and display comments appropriately will hopefully help to develop more and more feedback, thereby developing an ongoing dialogue or relationship with your readers. This in turn should have a positive effect in terms of both reputation and trust.


    Learn to love comments (positive and negative), encourage readers to leave them and make it easy for them to do so!

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    Business Blog Design Series[This is part of a series following on from a post called “Business Blog Design“]

    I see so many blogs that are clearly well thought out in terms of their content and seem to have a lot of things going for them which then go and spoil it by plastering Google AdWords adverts or other onpage advertising all over their blog.

    Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against onpage advertising per se – it’s a perfectly good way of developing revenue from a blog, albeit one that is seeing diminishing returns for those who are merely “dabbling” with it, rather than looking at it as a business activity.

    Planning and Goals
    Once again, it comes down to the planning process and your blog’s goals. If you are looking to have a blog which has a primary goal of using onpage advertising to generate revenue, then of course you are going to make best use of the key areas on your blog and populate them with suitable advertising banners and links.

    If, however, you are using a blog to promote your business and develop relationships with your clients, then this advertising is likely to be both distracting and detrimental to your activities. In addition, the advertising needs to be prominent to work well and so will need to occupy the space that you would otherwise use for elements of your own business that you want to promote. Basically, you will be using your blog’s key areas to market somebody else’s products rather than your own!

    Change of Mentality
    It also changes your mentality when you write and promote your blog. If you are writing a blog which is strictly focused on your specialism and your industry, then creating content which will be of interest to this type of reader will be your main concern, no matter what size of market this represents.

    However, the general strategy behind a successful onpage advertising campaign is always going to be a numbers game, therefore the more visitors you attract the greater the number of clicks you will achieve. This means that you are more likely to be looking at posts with a wider appeal or perhaps more contentious ones which will attract more attention … but for attention’s sake. Equally, your blog promotional strategy will need to be focused more on quantity of visitors rather than on quality, again distracting you from targeting readers who would be most beneficial to your own business.

    So, overall, if you are intending to use onpage advertising and are serious about doing so, then make that the focus of your blog following all the principles of placement and use of key “real estate” areas that we have discussed elsewhere in this series. However, if your business blog is intended to develop additional contacts and marketing opportunities, then avoid distracting your readers with adverts for other people’s products and concentrate on helping them discover your own.


    If you intend to use onpage advertising then make it the focus of your blog – if not, then avoid it !

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