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    Building a successful blogYou want to have a blog which benefits your business – yes?

    You want a blog which people are going to want to come back to time and time again – yes?

    Essentially, you want a blog which is going to be successful – yes again?

    Well, to give you the best chance of a successful business blog, then you’re going to need to make sure that you tick all the boxes to ensure that all of the underlying elements are in place to make that happen. It’s not difficult but it is important.

    For me, there are 5 elements which are like building blocks that make a blog what it is, 5 layers if you like that constitute the makeup of a blog and so 5 key aspects that you need to keep in mind as you plan and develop your blog.

    1. Philosophy
    Underpinning everything else are the general philosophy needed for blogging – you’ve got to be comfortable with the basic ideals of what people expect from blogs or else you’re going to fall at the first hurdle. The key one is that of openness – if you, or your company, are not willing to be open and honest in dealing with the readers of your blog then the likelihood is it will not achieve the goals you have for it. Be transparent and honest, and you’re off on the right foot.

    2. Technology
    You need to build the blog on the right technology base so that it supports what you want to do with it. It has to be one that will help your blog achieve the requirements that you have for it, both now and in the future. Making sure that it can grow with your ongoing needs is key to effectively future proof all the work and effort that you’ll be putting in. There are a number of excellent blogging platforms available – my own preference being for the full self hosted WordPress – but just ensure that you pick one that will be able to grow with you.

    3. Business
    Getting the business elements right means that you are treating the blog as the business and marketing tool that it is rather than as a piece of technology divorced from the company’s aims and requirements. Getting the business part right means that you’ve planned your objectives and aims for the blog, know how you intend to promote it (including with social media tools in place) and have answered the 3 key questions in the planning phase which are:

    • i) What do you want the blog to be used for

    • ii) Who is your target audience and what do you want to attract to your blog

    • iii) What you want to achieve with it and how to measure that?

    4. Layout and Graphics
    The so called “look and feel” layer focuses on how the blog will be laid out and takes into account not only the graphical elements and branding but also how the layout and structure can reflect the goals of the blog and the company. In addition, the layout should support the business goals by ensuring that the key “real estate” areas are used as effectively as possible and navigation remain intuitive and compelling giving a “stickiness” to the blog.

    5. Content
    Finally the content is ultimately where your ongoing focus needs to be, with all of the other elements essentially being there in place to support and market what you write about. This is of course the key part which needs to have our ongoing focus since all of the other elements will ideally be planned and implemented in the planning and preparation phases.

    While the content element does rightly get the lion’s share of our attention and much of the online advice on setting up and writing blogs, the content will only work to its full potential in a blog built with a foundation of the other elements outlined above. They are what ensures that the content is correctly focused, distributed, read and shared – essentially delivering you a successful blog in the process.

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    5. Business Blog Design: Generic Blog Templates

    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!

    14 Comments 
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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.

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

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