30 Blogging is big right now; everybody seems to be doing it. And increasingly it’s becoming a useful marketing tool for business. Here’s what you need to know to get started …
Blogging isn’t advertising, and it’s not the same as putting a website on to the internet. It’s not a sales tool, either: blogging doesn’t work well if you’re trying to sell something off the page. Blogging is more akin to PR, in that it’s a way of establishing a marketing identity while conveying specific information. But ultimately it’s a very personal form of marketing – it attempts something like a one-to-one conversation with the reader, inviting them to see you as a person and (usually) to contribute their own personal views. Blogging is becoming an essential part of any comprehensive marketing strategy.
Why think about a blog?
For starters, what business these days can afford to be without a website? The same thing is happening with blogs: because other businesses are getting into blogs, you may to have to do the same if you want to stay competitive.
A blog increases the number of search-engine-friendly pages you have on the internet. Even if the blog is linked to a page on your main site, it will look like a separate and therefore indexable spot.
Blogs have an advantage over a conventional web page because their content is (normally) refreshed so frequently: search engine spiders will visit regularly seeking to index that new content, and this means a blog stands a good chance of figuring high in a search engine search.
By linking a blog to your main site you may get extra traffic that would otherwise be difficult to find.
Because of the format, a blog is a good way to present time-related information, especially for the latest news about your business or commenting on news from other sources.
Because of the reader’s expectations, a blog is a good way to give a personal view – and of course that can be used to reinforce an appropriate brand image (knowledgeable, authoritative, witty, sharp, interesting, amiable … just choose your persona)
Blogs encourage responses from readers, so you can get feedback, tweak your campaigns and respond better to the market’s demands. They can provide free market research.
And finally, testing the water is cheap and easy– blogs require little or no technical expertise, and there are a number of free sites to get you started as well as a huge number of cheap or free utilities and tools to simplify the task of blogging. The entry point for blogging is especially low when compared to the cost of designing a website.
Why not a blog?
A blog’s main disadvantage is that it is a single page; eventually it will simply get too long, and even a sidebar indexing the titles for individual entries won’t ensure that it gets read. Older information can be archived on separate pages, but the average web surfer won’t bother go to the archives unless they want something very specific.
There are a lot of blogs out there: the Blog Census website counts 2,870,000 sites it thinks are blogs, two thirds of them in English. Most are very poor in quality (just because it’s possible doesn’t make it worthwhile) and many of them are really quite dead (it’s easy to get started but the momentum must be maintained). There’s a danger that all blogs might be tarred with the same brush. You should also avoid both problems yourself: be rigorous about the tone, style, grammar and content of your postings, add to the blog regularly and frequently, take a generally professional approach.
Most blogs have very few regular readers. In fact this isn’t a problem – a blog isn’t one of those scattergun approaches to marketing, it’s more like a laser beam targeting individuals. Treat it as a conversation with friends and colleagues, expect a readership in the low hundreds at best, and make the most of the one-to-one approach.
It’s also worth noting that efficacy of blogging as a marketing vehicle is unproven; a blog could be a time-consuming drag with little or no benefit to the bottom line. On the other hand, the blog could be an easy and economical method of boosting your profile. It all depends on the commitment you’re willing to make, the expectations you have, and the kind of measurements you want to apply to your blog’s goals.
How to get started
Step one should be to register a stand-alone domain name (www.companyblog.co.uk), make it a directory of your existing site (www.company.co.uk/blog) or set it up as a subdomain (blog.company.co.uk).
Avoid hosted services that do not allow you to use your own domain name – Google’s Blogger (www.blogger.com) is free, easy and functional, but it forces you to use a subdomain at its own blogspot.com site. Third party subdomains are also often perceived as less credible than a dedicated domain name or a blog address that is part of the company domain name; and if you want to change to a different blogging platform, you may well find there is no simple way to redirect traffic to the new address.
There are several alternatives to Blogger, including many free tools – most of which have the same subdomain URL restrictions. The two most widely used are WordPress (www.wordpress.com) and Moveable Type (www.movabletype.org) but a Google or Yahoo search will throw up hundreds.
Most blogging tools will let you customise the look and feel with templates, and many will also allow you to use HTML code if you’re comfortable with that. All allow you to edit the blog by entering text (and probably images too) via a web interface; a few have offline editors available, which means you can use something like Word to prepare the entry for uploading later.
On the blog page you’ll be able to add text elements other than actual Blog posts. A welcome message and something that describes your blog’s purpose should go at the top of the page as static text above the blog posts; this should contain search-engine keywords.
You also need an opt-in form to capture email addresses of would-be subscribers – otherwise you are missing an opportunity to grad potential leads. And you should add a links section, partly for the links to products and services you recommend (and maybe those you sell) but primarily to other blogs and websites (especially those that are linking to you).
Further down the road you can add real sophistication to the blog — provide new content on autopilot, capture visitor data, automatically stay in touch with subscribers, run advertising and sponsorships to generate some revenue (or goodwill) for you, administer contests, provide for social networking opportunities, include downloadable PDF files for your products and services … It’s all possible.
In the meantime, once your Mk 1 version is ready you should optimise the blog for search engines and subscriptions, then tell the world about it. More about this next time in Part Two…
What’s a blog
A blog (originally ‘web log’) is a single web page that can be updated with fresh content from the original author — and usually from visitors too, in the form of comments on a ‘posting’ by the writer. The most recent additions appear first, along with any comments, and previous material gets shuffled down the page.
A blog page can feature anything that a conventional web page can include – a search tool, a calendar, images, links to other pages and other sites, and so on. But it doesn’t have to: a simple blog can be a text-only page, such as a sequentially presented diary or an ongoing to-and-fro discussion on a particular topic.
Blogs are usually public. It is possible to set up a closed-access blog, but there are other formats that work better with private pages – -notably discussion forums and password protection.
1. Choose the topic carefully. The obvious option may well be best, so you could make the blog ‘what’s going on at our company’. But you might want to target a very specific audience, or promote a very particular brand image; a different subject might serve your purposes better. ‘What’s going on in our industry’ is more likely to encourage responses, if that’s you want. Something like ‘the ideal handset’ might also get some debate going, and could promote you as insightful and imaginative. Or even ‘how and why we got started with blogging’ – show the world what kind of people you are.
2. Invest in your blog. Mostly that means taking the time to understand what’s possible, to build up your blog, and generally practise your blogging (and blog-building) technique. Find out about trackbacks, pingbacks, keywords and how to use them, links, blogging etiquette, managing subscriptions, adding content … There are blogging consultants to hire, if you must, but the web is full of blogging advice and tutorials most of which are free.
3. Combine information and a degree of entertainment. Blogs work best when you can provide useful and usable information combined with your opinions, expressions and personality in general. There’s a viral element to the best blogs; if people value what you have to say and like the way you say it, they’ll come back to the blog and tell others about it.
4. Be a source of authoritative news. The key word here is “authoritative”: it would be difficult to compete with Mobile Business, of course, but you can provide insightful comment. Listen to what others are saying, report on that, and add your own views.
5. Appeal to the search engines. A blog is a web page; use all the basic SEO techniques, but pay special attention to linking. Blogging thrives on links between blogs; the more you link to others, the more they will link to you – which means improved PageRank and a better position when someone searches for your keywords.
6. Forget about selling. Blogs are about communicating with your audience, building relationships, establishing your identity and your reputation, building your brand. In-your-face selling won’t work; more subtle marketing will.
7. Start with an internal blog, one that tells staff what’s going on and enables them to express their opinions. A few months of that will provide you a grounding in blogging basics; you can see pros and cons as well as the potential problems. When you’ve established your comfort level you can go public.
8. Remember when websites were a new idea and people told you to include your web address on any marketing material that gave your phone number? The same advice applies for your blog.
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