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    Successful Corporate BlogsI’m currently writing a series called “The Diary of a Business Blog” (you can find part 2 here) which looks at an imaginary business owner going through the process of setting up and developing a blog for his business. One of the questions that the first couple of posts has elicited from BBB readers (thanks, by the way!) is “what makes a successful blog?” and I guess that this is probably a key question for any organisation looking to create their own business or corporate blog.

    My answer: a successful business blog is one which fulfils the purpose and achieves the results that it was created for.

    Now that may sound like a bit of a cop out on my part and I suppose that, in one way, it is. However, there is a good reason why.

    There’s more than ONE type of blog

    The issue is that there are so many different types of business blog, it’s simply not possible to give a single definitive definition of what success would look like or indeed a blueprint for creating one.

    To give a couple of examples: if we look at a CEO Blog (such as Jonathan Schwartz at Sun or Richard Edelman’s 6am blog) then the writing style, format and content are going to be very different from one designed as a product blog. So too will be its aims. Likewise a corporate blog which brings together a community of users and developers for market research or product development, will have a very different definition of “successful” from an “expert blog” written by a consultant or legal professional looking to directly improve his/her profile and reputation.

    However, what they will have in common is likely to be a clear set of objectives, albeit all different, which they are focused on achieving. These objectives would have been identified as part of the planning process and should always be in the back of your mind (or written on a postit in front of you!) when writing and promoting your business blog. [Aside: I’ll be looking at some possible objectives and metrics to measure them in a post next week.]

    Some pointers for your Business Blog

    However, having ducked the question once, I’ll try to make amends now. If I had to make some suggestions to organisations starting a blog that would help to achieve the goals that they have set for it, then I would recommend the following:
    • Don’t try to be everything to everyone: the best type of business blog will often be very targeted in nature. It will have identified the people that it wants to appeal to and should be written in such a way that it attracts, retains and develops that audience;

    • Plan, focus and stay true to your goals: you planned your objectives when you started, so try not to be distracted from them. If those are what you want to achieve, then make certain that you concentrate on them and don’t get pulled off in different directions;

    • Write interesting, compelling, focused content: you know the audience you wish to attract and hopefully you also know what will interest them. So try to present them with that information in a way which is authentic and which communicates the passion that you have for the subject;

    • Make it visually appealing: that doesn’t just mean images, although they certainly play a major role, but also break the text up with sub headings, use a header which supports and shows off your brand and ensure that above all it is easy on the eye. Don’t distract your readers from your content or make it difficult to take in;

    • Launch it properly: Plan the launch and make sure that you use all of the means at your disposal to tell people about it. Get your Foundation posts in place, use your mailing list, pre-announce it if applicable, create online press releases to support it and ensure that you put some weight behind the activities. If you believe it’s worth reading (and let’s hope you do!) then tell people and enthuse about it;

    • Vary the style of posts: while the content should be targetted, there are different ways in which you can present it from “expert pieces” to lists and from news stories to links to other key sources. Make sure that you break it up and present the information in different ways – it’ll help get across the points you are looking to communicate. [Some ideas on blog posts here might be of use];

    • Market it religiously: there is no point in having a blog and just letting it sit there – tell people about it. Use all the methods available both online and offline, generic and blog specific and then use all of them again! While your writing will hopefully attract readers over time, you should still “spread the word” at every opportunity.

    Ultimately, the person best placed to judge whether the blog you are running has been a success is … you! However, don’t make it hard for yourself – know what you want to achieve with it and then going all out to make it happen.

    If you enjoyed this post, make sure you subscribe to my RSS feed!

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    RSS Series from Better Business BloggingWe’ve seen how beneficial RSS can be to both publishers and readers alike earlier in this series so, with that in mind, it’s going to be important to encourage as many people as possible to subscribe to your feed so that they receive your latest posts automatically.

    To help start this process, here are 14 ways which will give the best chance of encouraging subscribers and help you to promote all of the information that you’re providing at the same time:

    1. Promote your feed prominently on your blog

    It’s important to make sure that the RSS icon / feed link is displayed in a prominent position at the top of your blog – as with anything, the placement on the page is very important and, in general, the higher up the page you place it, the more attention and clicks it will attract. What some blogs do is have the feed link appearing down in the footer of the page – don’t make that mistake yourselves!

    2. Offer an email option to receive RSS

    While we can talk about how useful RSS is (and it is!), that will not overcome the fact that a lot of people remain much more comfortable with email and slightly hesitant in the face of technology they’re not totally familiar with. So give them what they want. Offer the option to receive your blog updates automatically via email (ssshh – it’s still using RSS really) – Feedburner, Feedblitz and Aweber all have systems to help you to do this.

    3. Remind them after each post

    They’ve read your post – they’ve loved what you’ve written – so what better time to remind them that they can get all your articles delivered to them automatically than by adding a link to your feed at the bottom of each post together with a (Attention: marketing term!) call to action. They need never miss a thing you write again.

    4. Sign up reminder in your email

    Most of us have a “signature” at the bottom of every email we send – usually it contains our contact details and perhaps a short tagline for the business. Well, what better place to get your RSS feed information out to people you’re in contact with. You can do this either as a link or, if you use Feedburner, then you can use their “headline animator” and have the titles of your last 5 posts appear to help encourage people along.

    5. Tell people about it offline

    In business, we are in contact with potential customers on a constant basis, whether that’s when we give presentations, run seminars, participate in exhibitions etc. Here’s a great opportunity to help them get all your latest news and really get to know what you’re all about by making sure they are clear where to find your feed and what to do with it.

    6. Make people aware what RSS is and how useful it can be

    As I mentioned above, there are still many people who remain unclear of what RSS is and the benefits that it can offer them. Help them to find out. Put together a page which gives details of what RSS is and how they can use it to keep up with all the information they look at on a daily basis. To make it easy, if you’d like to use the introduction to RSS page I put together then please do – and if you could mention where you found it then that would be even better.

    7. Full Feeds or Partial Feeds

    Not all feeds are created equal. You can send out the complete post (full feed) or just an excerpt of it (partial feed) in your RSS - the general consensus seems to indicate that you are more likely to keep the subscribers if you offer them a full feed. The downside is that it does make it easier for scrapers to reproduce your content. I still say, “Go for full feed!”.

    8. Give them an incentive to subscribe

    You can always give an incentive (reward, giveaway, thank you … call it what you want) for people to sign up – something like an ebook focusing on a subject of particular relevance to your readers would probably work well. The easiest way to achieve this is to create a special link within your RSS feed which appears at the bottom of each post and takes subscribers through to a page where the download can be accessed.

    9. Use other online marketing methods

    Don’t forget to use the other online marketing methods to promote your feed as well – email marketing, online PR, SEO, social networks even Pay Per Click all have their place to encourage new subscribers to follow you, should you decide that they are relevant.

    10. Feeds to feed directories

    Alongside general web directories and the blog directories, there are also RSS directories where you can submit your feed. Make the most of them and submit your feed to all the relevant ones you can find – making it visible to as many people as possible through them is only going to be of benefit and may encourage further syndication of your content.

    11. Network elsewhere? Promote the feed there too

    The likelihood is that you network on certain sites and also participate in forums where there are people who would be interested in the information your feed contains. Make sure that if your profile offers the chance to promote your feed that you use it and, perhaps more importantly, include it in your signature on posts or comments you make.

    12. Encourage people to recommend your feed

    This might be done simply through basic referral marketing by asking current subscribers to pass on details of your feed to colleagues and friends – if you want to help them to do this, then include an email a friend option or encourage social bookmarking if you feel that would be appropriate.

    13. Include on key documents you distribute

    Mention your feed as part of the information that you send out with ebooks, white papers etc. In my own case, there is a pdf which forms part of each section of my Business Blogging eCourse. This includes a link through to this blog’s RSS feed so that people taking the course can also keep up on new posts at the same time.

    14. In your Newsletters

    Newsletters and blogs work really well together – very complementary! So make sure that you promote your RSS feed in your own newsletter and readers will be able to follow your blog inbetween the newsletters. You can then return the compliment and promote your newsletter via blog posts, distributed automatically by your feed.

    What about you – do you have any ways that you recommend to increase your RSS subscribers that you’d like to share?

    ......................................

    RSS Series:
    1. RSS - An Introduction: So, what is RSS all about then?
    2. RSS Benefits for businesses, bloggers and publishers
    3. Business benefits of RSS to subscribers & readers
    4. Ways to increase your RSS subscribers

    If you enjoyed this post, make sure you subscribe to my RSS feed!

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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.

    If you enjoyed this post, make sure you subscribe to my RSS feed!

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    keyword phrase selection for blogsI should say right from the start that you should always write first and foremost for your readers – that’s Rule #1 when it comes to creating a successful blog.

    Nevertheless, we shouldn’t forget that a blog is also an important tool in helping our positioning and Search Engine ranking for keyword phrases which are important to us and our business. These may be ones which cover central themes in our blog and our business activities, or they could be targeting areas that we would like to benefit from as part of the “Long Tail” effect that blogs are excellently positioned for.

    The key first step is identifying the right keyword phrases is going to be key to our efforts to get better rankings through Search Engine Optimisation. This will allow us to focus our articles at areas which we know will appeal both to our readers and to the Search Engines at the same time. It can also help to achieve a more comprehensive coverage in our chosen area by identifying keyword phrases in adjacent areas that are relevant to what we offer.

    To help in this task and find the best keyword phrases, there are a number of tools around and a lot of them are free! In addition to the tools that I have mentioned below, also take the time to check out your competitors’ sites and see what words they are targeting in their Title tag and keyword meta tag (go to View -> Source in Internet Explorer to view these). While not to be directly copied – after all every business is different – they can be a good source of additional information and ideas.

    Here are the keyword tools that I have looked at and consider worthwhile.

    WordTracker
    WordTracker is probably the best known tool in the field and is the self styled Leading Keyword Research Tool. They is a scaled charge for a weekly, monthly or annual subscription as well as a limited free trial, but it is also very complete in what it offers across a number of Search Engines.

    Google AdWords: Keyword Tool
    The Keyword Tool is built into AdWords but Google have also made it available externally so that you can do some initial research. It gives ideas for new keywords associated with your target phrase but does not indicate relevance or give details of number or frequency of searches

    Overture Keyword Selector Tool
    This tool is a little dated now (and of course Overture is now rebranded as Yahoo Search Marketing) but there is still validity in checking it out. It returns details of how many searches have been carried out in the Overture engine over the period of a month and allows a drill down into associated keywords containing your keyword phrase as well.

    NicheBot
    NicheBot has a mix of Wordtracker and Overture based tools as well as a nice keyword analysis tool which focuses on Googles results

    Digital Point Keyword Suggestion Tool
    One of a set of tools available at the Digital Point website this engine gives search numbers on keywords from Wordtracker and Overture sources

    In addition to these, although some of the keyword tools mentioned above already include it, I would also recommend taking a look through a Thesaurus (online or paperback) to open up other avenues. Sometimes you just cant beat going back to basics!

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    Sony BlogsWell the last time I looked at a Sony blog, it was with mouth open wide in disbelief as the ill conceived and executed ‘All I want for Xmas is a PSP’ fake blog hit the blogosphere and was in turn hit by it.

    Things have moved on and, over the past two months, Sony has launched two new blogs for different parts of their business:

    • one is the Sony Playstation blog aimed fairly and squarely at game players and developers of the Playstation product range;
    • the second is the Sony Electronics blog from that arm of the company which intends to focus on “Electronics-related activities, products and customers in the U.S.”.
    Two very different blogs, aimed at different audiences and done in very different ways but both ostensively Sony corporate blogs.

    Sony blogs: Sony Playstation blogSony Playstation Blog
    The Sony Playstation Blog is run by Sony Computer Entertainment America (SCEA) and is a highly stylised blog built on a WordPress platform which is being written by a host of authors across a range of different departments within the PlayStation division. Development was carried out externally by Josh Hallett together with marketing firm Clark/Nikdel/Powell according to The Ledger.

    Posting is both regular and frequent as you would expect with the number of authors (though that takes a real level of organisation, I can assure you), but that is no more than the readers would expect in this market sector. The content is generally good with a mix of games information, firmware details and a more strategic view in some posts from “the top”. Good use of imagery and linking as well.

    The blogs colour scheme uses a black / dark grey background with the white text and the colours from the Playstation logo featuring on top. Altogether, very slick and supports the overall branding really well – though a slight concern that the colour scheme might prove difficult on mobile devices due to the smaller screen size, something that might be relevant considering the blog’s target audience.

    Even in its structure, the blog has been nicely put together with friendly permalinks, judicious use of categories and emphasis in the sidebar highlighting the comments that the posts are attracting a nice way to both encourage and emphasise them.

    Sony Electronics BlogSony Blogs: Sony Electronics Blog
    The Sony Electronic Blog has a totally different feel to it, not only in look (obviously!) but in the way that it is put together and presented. This would be fine it has a totally different target audience after all but there are aspects which struggle in its current state.

    Like the Playstation blog, this is also built on WordPress and while visually clean, the overall look and feel is relatively standard and uninspiring. It also gives the feeling of not yet being finished with:

    • the URL as part of news.sel.sony.com rather than its own domain;
    • calling it the “SEL External News Blog” in the Title Tag rather than using any specific Sony branding;
    • no link back to the blog homepage on the blog itself;
    • and, indeed no real homepage but instead going directly into the latest posts.
    Reinforcing the lack of posts with a (current brief) Recent posts box at the top of the sidebar is probably not the most sensible move either.

    In this start up period, there is a single writer who is Rick Clancy, the head of Corporate Communications for Sony Electronics. While clearly someone skilled in writing and who has both the ability and the authority to speak openly all good characteristics for a corporate blogger he is currently writing alone and the resulting weekly post is probably not sufficient for the sort of blog that this is trying to be.

    In short there needs to be more content though the quality of what is there looks to be good and certainly has managed to elicit responses and indeed readers leaving detailed comments, appraisals and criticisms. It’s difficult to know whether there is a follow up which is going on off blog to answer the comments but that would probably be sensible – perhaps some additional resource required? In any case, they are certainly throwing up topics which warrant posts focusing on the areas being asked about, thereby allowing Sony to put their side of the story.

    Summary
    I should start by saying that it’s great to see Sony using blogging to communicate with its customers and developers – for a company which is not known for its openness, this is a great move and one that I hope we will see others following.

    However, in looking at the two blogs, you will have no doubt gathered that, as they stand, I consider that the Sony Playstation Blog to be an excellent example of a well constructed blog while the Sony Electronics blog has had a less auspicious launch.

    And yet, which has the greatest potential? Well, this time my vote goes to the Sony Electronics blog and not just because of the relative position it is starting from. Its Playstation neighbour is vibrant but may find it difficult to create a real central personality because of the large number of authors and the nature of the gaming industry.

    Conversely, I get the feeling that the SE Blog has a potentially important role to play in the Electronics side of Sony’s business and presents a huge opportunity. The type of comments coming in show the areas which are most of interest to the readership and are giving Sony the chance to address these concerns for a whole raft of their customer base – what an opportunity and the ideal mouthpiece to achieve it through at their disposal! Let’s hope they grab this opportunity with both hands!

    As it stands: Sony Playstation Blog, a straight A grade. Sony Electronics blog, a C but with signs of real future potential if handled correctly.

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    Measuring the results of your blogPlanning a blog and then spending both time and effort on creating and developing it is all well and good but, as a business, we are looking to see results which warrant this outlay.

    Effectively, we have a business and marketing tool which has a focus, a target audience and a business aim it also has costs attached to it, often principally in terms of time, which need to be justified. Like all marketing activity, we are looking for a return on our investment and to calculate this, we need to measure how successful our blog has been for us.

    This is turn raises the question of what criteria we should be using to determine this. There are a number of people who have written on the subject, perhaps the most prominent of which is Charlene Li at Forrester with their report at the start of the year but here we are probably looking above and beyond the methods generally available to most organisations. There are also a number of intangibles that could be considered such as branding and profile development, but they are perhaps less relevant to a small business and even harder to measure effectively.

    However, that doesn’t mean that there is no way of identifying the results of a blog. On the contrary. However, first we need to decide what we are going to measure – here the criteria should reflect the main objectives that we set out for the blog.

    Some of the potential methods to evaluate these are:

    • Visitors: you might consider that it is the number of new or repeat visitors to your blog because this displays the attractiveness of the blog in terms of content and will develop the community element;

    • Comments: it could be the number of comments that you receive on your posts because you are looking to achieve a certain level of interaction with readers and develop more 2 way conversations;

    • Subscribers: the number of subscribers to your RSS feed may be important because you feel this best shows active interest from your readers and allows you to start to tacitly market to them;

    • Links: the number of blogs and websites which link to your blog or refer to your articles via trackbacks because the interest levels of other bloggers is important from a viral marketing perspective ;

    • Sign-ups: the number of sign ups to a newsletter which you may have as your main marketing call to action on the blog and which will allow you to develop in terms of a subscriber list;

    • Prospects: the number of new potential customers who get in contact through the contact form on your Blog (or special links) because you are looking for new client introductions;

    • Clients and Sales: while not a direct sales tool, the blog’s end goal is often to generate additional business, either as a direct or as an indirect result of our efforts. So measure it where possible;

    • Reduced Marketing Spend: the reduction in Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) and Pay Per Click (PPC) spend because of the search engine benefits that a blog brings.

    As you can see, there are a number of different methods we can use and so it is a case of deciding which is the most appropriate according to the aims we had for the blog. This is likely to be a mix of a number of the ones mentioned above but a suitable combination will give an appropriate idea of the level of results that the blog has achieved.

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    At the start of 2007, a piece of legislation came into force to bring the UK in line with European requirements, specifically the First Company Law Directive which controls the minimum information requirements which has to appear on company documents, including the website, as well as all written communications including e-mail.

    In it, it states that businesses are expected to include details such as company registration details, company address, registration number and contact details on all company documentation including business letters, emails and of course websites.

    An aide memoir from OutLaw.com gives us the details that needs to be included on the website, though not on every page thankfully:

    The name, geographic address and email address of the service provider. The name of the organisation with which the customer is contracting must be given. This might differ from the trading name. Any such difference should be explained e.g. “XYZ.com is the trading name of XYZ Enterprises Limited.”

    It is not sufficient to include a ‘contact us’ form without also providing an email address and geographic address somewhere easily accessible on the site. A PO Box is unlikely to suffice as a geographic address; but a registered office address would. If the business is a company, the registered office address must be included.

    If a company, the company’s registration number should be given and, under the Companies Act, the place of registation should be stated (e.g. “XYZ Enterprises Limited is a company registered in England and Wales with company number 1234567”)

    If the business is a member of a trade or professional association, membership details, including any registration number, should be provided.

    If the business has a VAT number, it should be stated even if the website is not being used for e-commerce transactions.

    Prices on the website must be clear and unambiguous. Also, state whether prices are inclusive of tax and delivery costs.

    Although they are not specifically mentioned, we can assume that these business details should also be included on our business blogs since they are effectively a special type of website. So make sure that you are covered – after all, your blog is a key element of your business communications.

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    No, not being offensive – just taking a stroll back down memory lane to my days as a linguist and in particular my Latin classes.

    The word Amateur actually comes from the latin amatorem (nom. amator) meaning lover, from the verb amare meaning to love. And one of the key elements that you really need to have as a blogger is a love or a passion for the subject that you are writing about. If you dont have this, then it will certainly show through in your writing

    Passion can make a real difference to how you communicate your message. Next time you are discussing something with friends, take a moment to look around and youll quickly spot who is truly interested in the subject. Youll see it in their body language, in the way that they speak, the words they use and how they interact with others. At the end of the day, they stand out and thats what we want to do when we write a blog.

    Even in business blogging, particularly when it comes to niche business areas, we need to communicate both our knowledge and our passion for what we are writing about – both will be factors which influence and attract our readers. As a blogger, if you are not passionate about your subject, then you cant realistically expect your readers to be. However, if you can get across your enthusiasm, then that can really be infectious.

    Of course, when we communicate in writing, and particularly online, we have to rely mainly on the words and language that we use. That doesnt necessarily mean that we have to spend more time poring over every comma and full stop, though. Very often something written spontaneously conveys our enthusiasm and the message we want to get across so much better.

    So to really get your message across when you blog, communicate with passion even if it does make you an amateur!

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    Better Business Blogging - Quick Bloggers Guide

    Whether you are a large corporate organisation or an independent consultant or small business, as you start a Business Blog, there are a number of elements that you need to consider in order to ensure that you give it every opportunity to be a success.

    While the exact requirements will differ according to the goals and expectations, you should be able to answer the following questions from the start:

    a) What do you want to do with your Business Blog?
    Make sure that you have a clear vision of what you want to do with your Business Blog it should have focus and you need to ensure that it does not become a jack of all trades and master of none – the more focused it is, the more successful it is likely to be.

    b) Who is your target audience for your Business Blog?

    Avoid trying to make it be all things to all people it isnt possible. Once again focus is important, so decide on your target audience and write the blog for them with content they are looking for and a style that they will warm to. If you have lots of different audiences that you wish to appeal to then you might like to consider setting up separate blogs to cater for each area.

    c) What results are you looking to achieve?
    What goals do you have for your Business Blog and just as importantly, how are you going to measure them? There is going to be time and effort involved and you need to show results at the end of it – therefore, from the start, you should know what results you are looking for. So decide on the criteria you want to work with and how you wish to measure them.

    d) How will it integrate with your other marketing activities?
    Blogging is an excellent marketing tool, as well as having being strong in other areas. However, it is not a magic wand to cure all marketing ills, so it is necessary to decide how to best use it in conjunction with your other marketing, business development and customer service activities. (Check Marketing and Promoting your Business Blog.

    e) What Blogging software to choose?
    There are a number of options available each with different benefits by deciding what you wish to do with it, what it will be integrated with (if anything) and what degree or control or customisation you require, you will be able to focus in on which would be best for your needs. The best advice is to choose one which will grow and develop with you as well as fitting with your current business and technical requirements. Free hosted software (such as Blogger) will seldom do this or give you sufficient control, so look at WordPress (full version) or Typepad as good starter points.

    f) What to call your Business Blog?
    Rule of Thumb: choose something which you are still going to feel comfortable with in a year’s time. Either let it reflect your company and branding, or make sure it contains your keywords … or preferably both. You might like to check some additional ideas on choosing a Business Blog name here.

    g) Host it on your website or on a different domain
    As a general rule, if it sits comfortably alongside your website and complements the information on it, then integrate it into your website. If, on the other hand, you are looking to present an objective view on your industry or want a separate identity for branding purposes then choose a separate domain name.

    h) What domain name or subdirectory name to use?
    Try to use something descriptive – if you are using a separate domain, then choose a domain name which either reflects the branding you wish to achieve or contains your main keyword (or preferably both!). If it is a subdirectory then describe the purpose it will be serving such as Information Centre for example.

    i) Look and Feel of the Blog
    If you are using it as part of your website, then integrate the look and feel with that. There’s no need for your visitors to really know that they are on a blog – remember it’s the benefits that blogs offer that is important, not the technology. If it is on a separate domain, then design your Business Blog with the image you want to portray but don’t use the default template = zero differentiation!

    With all of these elements in place then you are starting off on the right track and should have the foundations in place to create a successful Business Blog. By doing so, you will find that it will save you a lot of time and inconvenience in the future and will make the blog that much more effective in what you are looking to achieve.

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    5. Business Blog: separate domain or on your website

    The use of Business Blogging by small businesses is a topic that has been covered by many but is certainly important enough to be revisited here. I am convinced, given the wide range of potential benefits and the different ways in which a small business can use a Business Blog, that the discussion should not be if a blog is worthwhile but rather where its focus should lie.

    A blog can play a central role in the marketing activity of a Small Business but, like all forms of marketing, it needs to be planned, targeted and measured. Consequently, a key phase in creating a successful Small Business blog happens ahead of its launch when you plan out how you want to use your Blog, who your target audience is and what you want to achieve with it. All three of these elements are key to its success.

    If we now take a look at some of the potential types of focus that a small business Blog can take, then you will see what a powerful tool it can be.

    Demonstrate and communicate your expertise
    Most small businesses offer specialist knowledge and skills – it’s what differentiates them – but what they often lack is a way to demonstrate them to potential customers. A Business Blog offers the ability to do this and much more beside. By what you write in your posts and also how you write them, you can show your expertise without overtly selling to your readers this gives you the chance to build up a positive reputation and a degree of trust with potential clients and partners alike.

    Build individual networks and foster collaboration
    Small businesses may be specialists but they also need a strong support structure and partners around them. Business blogging is not only an ideal way to start to engage with customers, as we have seen, but also to foster partnerships, collaborations and joint ventures with others in your industry. As you attract other players in your marketplace to your blog, opportunities for collaboration and networking will develop naturally through the conversations taking place.

    Communicate with a local, national or global audience
    While Business Blogs are most often used to communicate with a targeted, but geographically widespread, audience, they can also allow you to focus in on a local customer base, primarily by changing the emphasis of the posts and the structure. This flexibility of approach means that small businesses of all types and with all types of customer base can use blogs to promote their business and develop relationships with their customers.

    Developing reputation and trust
    We all need to get closer to our customers and a Business Blog is an excellent way to achieve that. It allows us to engage customers and readers of our blog in a way that no other online method can achieve. This in turn gives us the time and the opportunity to develop our reputation in their eyes and foster a high level of trust between ourselves and our customers.

    Great Search Engine rankings
    With so many people using the internet to research products and services before they buy, small businesses need to achieve a prominent position and high ranking in Search Engine Results for their chosen key phrases. Business Blogs can help immeasurably in this. The structure of a blog combined with the focused nature of the posts, regular updates and the interlinking which is part and parcel of blogs, will all push you towards to the top of the rankings. This makes a Business Blog ideal for small businesses looking for greater visibility and enquiries.

    Dominate a Niche Market
    Small businesses usually have a set of services or products which are designed to answer the needs of a specific, and often, niche market. Getting exposure in that market is key to being able to dominate it and ensure that your business is the one that the market itself recommends. Using a Business Blog, you can raise your profile and lead the discussions on any aspect affecting that market. Talk about it and get talked about!

    Project your personality
    As a small business, you will tend to work very closely with your customers. Your expertise is highly important but so are you as a person and how you get on with your customer – a strong relationship will help to ensure that the project develops well. Blogs can let your personality shine through before you enter the relationship and may give you the edge in being selected.

    Easy Web Publishing no webmaster required!
    While we rightly focus on external benefits, we should not forget that there are also solid internal reasons for using a blog in a small business and ease of use is right at the top of that list. Blogs can be used in addition to a business website or as part of it they can also be used instead of a website. In all of these cases, once established, you can publish new content or change pages on your site without relying on a web designer or webmaster. Reader friendly, user friendly and cost effective.

    Research your Market
    Your Business Blog provides you with a two way communication tool, and the information that you can get from your readers may be highly important. By participating in the discussions that your posts will generate, you should be able to get a clearer idea of what the up to the minute interests of your clients are. Surveys and focus groups can achieve this to a certain level but open conversations on your Blog will achieve much more, both in terms of depth and breadth.

    Finally a word of advice: dont get hung up about the word blog a blog is a tool and its what you do with it that counts. Many people use Microsoft Word but the documents that they produce are as varied as the author. The same is true with Blogs for small businesses. So, evaluate what you need as a business and then focus strongly on using the Blog for that purpose and it will be successful for you.

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