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    Today, I am focusing not solely on blogging but also on WordPress which, as regular followers will already be aware, is my blogging software of choice for business blogs. Why’s that I hear you ask? Well simply because it lets you run a fully fledged blog on your own website which is easy of use, has great functionality and is expandable. For me, that’s the best way to make sure that your investment in your blogging and your online presence in general is effectively future proofed.

    So where did it start?

    Wordpress started life as simply an open source personal publishing tool used by people wanting to run a personal diary on the web. However, since then, both the use of blogs in business and WordPress itself have developed at a frantic pace – for me, a blog is now an essential tool for businesses and WordPress fills the role of blogging tool of choice for individuals, small businesses and more and more large businesses too.

    What has also happened, though, is that it has also developed beyond being a simple blogging system and is now also an excellent CMS - Content Management System perfect for creating complete websites which business owners can then develop and update themselves as they require. Along with this it still has great Search Engine attractiveness and of course extends our ability to interact with customers and prospects from just the blog area to all parts of the site. This helps immeasurably to improve customer relations which are going to be more and more key for businesses in today’s environment.

    Ideal solution as money gets tight

    If this is starting to sound like a sales pitch for WordPress then my apologies, its really not meant to be. My goal is more to show the benefits that you can achieve by using WordPresss to create your online presence rather than a simple static website – all this at a time when costs are having to be shaved wherever possible and yet a strong presence on the internet is still going to be crucial for developing new business.

    Having a standard website is often the route that small businesses take as they first create their online presence and often its a decision which is taken on cost. The trouble is that it doesnt take into account ongoing costs cost of their web developer to add new pages or change text, cost for further development, or even the costs to add the interaction that customers are not only demanding but now coming to expect.

    Given this is the case, the advantages you can gain are:

    • the ability to add pages as and when you require which develops your web presence and your website content for both customers and search engines alike (which in turn adds to your web promotion opportunities);

    • the chance to interact with your prospects and demonstrate why you are the partner of choice;

    • the ability to modify text on the pages as and when you want to without additional costs or any delay waiting for someone to do so for you;

    • the chance, with appropriate knowledge, to run your own ecommerce section directly from the blog as well as link in with your enewsletter subscribers etc.

    • the opportunity to differentiate your business. When theres less business about to be had the need to stand out and be able to adapt quickly is important;

    • easy and instant dissemination of key information out to sites and subscribers intereested in what you offer.

    Conclusion

    The point that I wanted to get across is that, while WordPress opens up huge possibilities as a blogging platform, it offers so much more than this as well. For a small business needing a strong and developing online presence, it is the perfect tool – having it set up correctly at the start gives an interactive, SEO rich website which can be developed by the owner at will. In addition, with a seemingly never ending stream of plugins being developed, the expansion possibilities are also hugely impressive.

    So whether you are looking at setting up a standalone blog, integrating one into your current website or looking at a full website for your business, take a look at what WordPress can do for you in this respect. And if you have any questions, why not give me a call?

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    Not so much blogging tools, but rather tools I use in the course of blogging, if you see what I mean! Anyway, here are 12 tools that I find massively useful in and around my blog.

    1. Feedburner

    One of the blogging tools I would recommend unreservedly. While I may not visit the site every day, I run all of my RSS feeds and my clients feeds through Feedburner which allows me to use them so much more effectively than I could otherwise. It isnt just so I can see how many people are following my blog through my feed or that they can automatically receive updates via email if they are not familiar with RSS. I can also use it to brand the RSS feed, create a signature using the feed to promote my blog on my email or on forum postings, add messages about my services to the feed and much more. Oh and its free.

    2. Aweber

    Although I use a bespoke email marketing system for the larger client campaigns that I run, I also run a number of mailing lists including my own free Business Blogging eCourse (over 2500 takers now, BTW!) via Aweber. This started life as an autoresponder system as well as a bulk email system which seems to have gradually expanded so you can do tracking and all sorts now. In addition, they launched Blog Broadcast which will automatically create an email newsletter from your blog posts that you can schedule according to your needs.

    3. Google Webmaster Tools

    Now at the end of the day, a business blog is still essentially a website and as such can benefit from the tools that Google makes available to webmasters everywhere. Lets face it, businesses may run blogs as an interactive mouthpiece with their clients and the good ones benefit from all of the intangibles in terms of trust, relationships etc they can create; however, this doesn’t stop businesses also tapping into the fact that they are inherently attractive to search engines and so ideal to help develop your online marketing. So check in with Google Webmaster Tools over at Google Webmaster Central.

    4. Statcounter

    Its essential to keep track of whats going on your blog, which posts are attracting most attention, where readers are coming from and what keywords they are using to find you. These are all things we need to know to improve and get the most out of our business blogs. For this, I use two tools – Google Analytics, which is comprehensive but the 24 hour delay in getting the stats can sometimes be frustrating if I need immediate feedback on posts or when I get a surge of visitors from sites like Digg or StumbleUpon. For this reason I also use Statcounter free up to a certain limit but not too pricey on the upgrade if you want some additional bandwidth.

    5. RSS Reader

    To keep up with what is going on in my industry or those of my clients, I rely on two tools. Essential tool no.1 – my RSS reader, which provides me with the news and views of selected sites delivered straight to me. Personally I have gone with an offline reader called FeedReader and I like it. However, I would be remiss if I didnt also point you in the direction of the two most popular readers when it comes to people who follow me: Google Reader and Bloglines. My only advice is to check them out and see which ones appeals to you most. Actually Im wrong my real only advice would simply be – get one!

    6. Google Alerts

    Essential Tool no.2 – Google Alerts. A great little tool which keeps me up to date by sending me emails with any blogs, sites and news articles which mention any of the topics or companies that I am monitoring. Daily updates on some keywords but for others I prefer to get immediate notification so that I can follow up if necessary, perhaps leave a comment or be the first to share the information with my own readers.

    7. WordPress

    Im a WordPress fan, I cant deny it. All the blogs I run for myself and those I set up for clients are based on the WordPress platform powerful, flexible and, in my opinion, the best tool to future proof your investment in blogging. (Oh dear, that sounded a bit like marketing speak!) However, there are often things that I want to do with a blog to achieve a business aim that I need to research from a technical standpoint. Enter the WordPress site. Not only an invaluable source of information on themes and plugins but also the support of other developers and users in the forums. Fab!

    8. Yahoo Site explorer / SEO plugin of Firefox

    Linking is such an important element of the development of a blog that it’s great to keep a close eye on who is linking to you. Specific sites like Technorati are really good but I also like to use another tool (or rather tools) to give a view across all areas of the internet – firstly you’ve got Yahoo’s Site Explorer which allows focus on inbound and internal links and secondly there is the SEO plugin for Firefox (from Aaron Wall of SEO Book fame). Both excellent.

    9. Core FTP

    While I could use WordPress to load images and pdfs etc onto my blog, I guess my years on the business development and marketing side of things havent totally suppressed the techie within (I blame my years at Psion for that) and I like to use an FTP program to load stuff onto my blog. Of course it also comes in very handy for setting up WordPress in the first place together with the plugins I use as part of creating fully optimised blogs for clients. Many recommend Filezilla but I still love the rather bare simplicity of Core FTP bless!

    10. SnagIt

    After trying a number of other products to capture images on screen, I finally forked out for SnagIt and dont regret it for an instant not that that makes me a big spender either at $50. Whether it is for putting together my training courses on blog promotion, creating manuals so clients can really use their blog properly or just to liven up posts or forum comments, its easy and very flexible. Well worth the money.

    11. Dreamstime

    Having looked at a number of different graphics sites, Dreamstime is the one that I use the most when I am looking for images and graphics to use in my posts. There are a number of others such as iStockphoto or Big Stock Photo which are widely used but I found that Dreamstime has an excellent range of images and a reasonable price structure so have stuck with that.

    12. Technorati

    Still the daddy of Blog Search Engines and Blog Directories all rolled into one. If you want to find a blog in your chosen area of expertise then Technorati is where to start and then just follow the links that you find there. Since its important to check out blogs that already exist as part of your own setup process, then this is definitely a site to be familiar with.

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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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    WordPress has been busy again with an additional upgrade to its main open source blogging platform and also the announcement of the formal release of two additional products over the past 10 days.

    WordPress MU (multi-user) and bbPress have both had their proper releases with WordPress MU 1.0 and bbPress 0.72. WordPress MU is in fact a version which allows you to run and manage multiple blogs off a single system, hence users in that sense – you can of course have many users in the “authors” sense on a normal WordPress installation. This is the software that powers the hosted version of WordPress at WordPress.com and is likely to see its initial markets coming from the worlds of journalism and education where multiple individual blogs held under one roof are common.

    bbPress is forum software which has focused on being “lean and mean” and has all the features and speed that you would expect, coming as it does from the writers of WordPress. It can be run independently but will also be a great addition to those looking to include a Forum within their own Blogs. If you want to see it in action then the WordPress support forums uses it so that would be a good place to start.

    Last, but by no means least, the new version of WordPress itself – WordPress 2.0.5 codename Ronan – is mainly a bug fix of some security elements and custom fields rather than a major upgrade although 2.1 is expected to be coming out sooner rather than later with some additional functionality. What more can they add?

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    I am a great fan of WordPress and it is the blogging platform I would recommend to anyone setting up a business based blog.

    In trying to help new users understand how to use a blog, WordPress includes three posts when they install the software: a post, a comment and an ‘About’ page. These are designed to show how each of these appear in the Blog and are extremely useful as such.

    However, as Darren Rowse at Problogger has outlined this in his post The problem of ‘About’ Default pages, you have to remember to take them out when you start your blog for real, and while the dummy ‘Post’ and ‘Comment’ are easy to remember, don’t forget the ‘Page’ as well!

    But don’t delete it, just edit it – having a good profile page is very important as I outlined in my post, Don’t ignore your Profile Page.

    There are a couple of other points which are good to remember as well. Firstly, remember to change the Blog tagline which is set at “Just Another WordPress Blog” – this you should replace with something that reallt states the objectives of your blog. It is also displayed by many WordPress themes (templates). If you are not sure how to replace it, then in the ‘backoffice’ of your WordPress installation (where you create the posts), go to the “Options” area in the menu and you will find it there under “General Options”.

    The second point is just as vital if you are going to make sure that your blog doesn’t look like thousands of others, and that is changing the default template – known as Kubrick – that WordPress comes with. I still find so many blogs which appear with the standard blue box at the top which is really a shame, because no matter how good their content, they are still going to be ignored simply because they haven’t taken the time to differentiate their blog in terms of its look and feel.

    If you wish to change to a different look, then you have two options: either, have a design created for you or a theme modified to fit with the format of your site (something we can do) or simply select a theme from the many available and load it into your blog. One of the best places to find a good WordPress theme is a recently created site called WordPress Theme Viewer, so check it out and make sure your look and feel works as hard for you as your text!

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    Ive had a number of people send me trend comparisons over the past week as Google has released yet another beta product in Google Trends, which maps the number of searches made on keywords since the start of 2004. With the ability to compare up to 5 terms of a single chart, it can provide an interesting, if high level and (by Googles own admission) approximated, view of the search level and hence the interest in certain terms.

    One which did catch my eye was posted by Rachel Cunliffe at Cre8d in her post Google Trendswhere she mapped the different journeys of some of leading blogging platform software. The result was very interesting with a continued rise in WordPress against some of the other major players the results can be seen here.

    Having had my interest piqued, I repeated the exercise with a different selection of blogging software including Blogger, Mambo and Joomla. It should be said that there is a possible discrepancy in the results as both blogger and mambo are terms which could be searched on outside of the context of blogging platforms. Nonetheless, the results are:

    Conclusions purely in terms of platform, there seems to be a convergence in terms of which platforms are being searched for most often with a recent drop in mambo but a continued rise across the others. The best news to take from this is that the interest in Blogging is clearly increasing at a very healthy rate, though the levels of course fluctuate wildly between regions.

    The last word here, relating to Google Trends rather than Blogging Platforms, has to go to Steve Rubel who came up with some interesting trend comparisons as ever Google bigger than God, hey?

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    Blog Consultant questions: Ask the Blog CoachBusiness Blogging Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

    Q – You recommend that you should have full control over a Business Blog and therefore that a hosted service like Blogger be ideal. Why is that and how can I move mine from Blogger to WordPress?

    A – Yes, you are right. Just to clarify, I have nothing against Blogger for personal Blogs – in fact, it has done an enormous amount to open up this opportunity to more people than ever before.

    However, I maintain that a business needs to have control over something as important as its own Blog which it has invested time and effort in planning, developing and promoting. In addition, there have been instances reported where blogs on Blogger have been mistaken for spam blogs (so called splogs) and deleted. For this reason, you have to work with a blogging solution where you have total control your own information and access.

    You will also find that a system such as WordPress offers some incredible opportunities in terms of Search Engine Optimisation and information gathering which will help you to achieve better Search Engine rankings and higher level of visitors and subscribers. At the same time, it offers much greater potential for future development with the plug-ins that are available and so “Future proofs” your investment.

    To turn to the second part of your question: the process can be relatively painless depending on the complexity of what you want to do. The latest release of WordPress (version 2.0) has a transfer program built in so if you are setting up a new WordPress blog then most of the work is done for you. You can find the process in the “Options” section of the WordPress interface and it will guide you through the process. Its as simple as that!

    There are two other elements which you should consider: if you want to retain the type of look and feel that you had with Blogger then you will need to customise the WordPress template but here as well you would have a great deal more flexibility than before. The second element is ensuring that information indexed previously by the Search Engines still leads to the correct articles. If you had Blogger appearing at your domain then this should be possible by recreating the same permalink structure.

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