Blogs have become a great way to wax lyrical about issues of the day or what you've been up to in your private life. But if you want to use them to market your business, you need to define the aims and objectives of the blog instead of pouring time and cash into pointless waffle. Matt Henkes, writing for our sister site, BusinessZone.co.uk, share his insights on the subject.
It could be that you want to demonstrate your expertise in a particular area, build up a reputation as an authority in your industry, or perhaps build trust with current customers or attract new prospects. Blogs can even be used as a supplemental tech support or customer service function.
Whatever it is you are trying to do or say, you need to think carefully about the audience you are writing for. It's likely to be customers but could just as easily be prospects, suppliers, or potential partners, depending on what your business is. Each end goal requires a different approach to the way you plan, design, write, and market your blog. Plugging away without really identifying your aims is likely to result in lack of direction and wasted time.
Darren Rowse, of ProBlogger.net, makes a living out of blogging and provides advice to business folk who want to use the medium more effectively. He claims lack of objectives is the most common mistake people make with their business blogging. "The key question to ask is 'what do I want to get out of this'?", he says. "Establish your objectives and let them inform everything that follows, including design and content creation."
Blog with passion
But what's the point of plowing in time and effort if you have no confidence in your ability to write? "Most people can write even if they're not confident in their ability," says business blog consultant Mark White. If you're blogging about your own business, the likelihood is you are writing about something you are either passionate about or extremely knowledgeable about. "Most people can write e-mails," he says. "If you can be enthusiastic about something, that's half the battle because you're trying to convey that enthusiasm to your readers."
Having knowledge you can share is the goal, as well as getting people to connect with you and come back for more. However, even seasoned pros suffer from writer's block every now and again. So when you've committed yourself to providing regular creative content and the pressure's on, what happens when you blank? "If you haven't got anything to write about then don't write anything," warns White. "Wait until you're happy with what you've got."
Instead, he suggests bloggers go back to thinking about the audience – what would they want to read about? Pick something that you've written about to a client in an e-mail or a question put to you when giving a presentation to a potential customer. "If those people are asking something, that's likely to be information beneficial to a whole raft of customers and prospects," adds White. "Repeat a question you've been asked by someone else and give the answer."
- The number of new or repeat visitors
- Number of comments received
- Blogs and websites which link to you
- Improved customer service
- Subsequent comments and suggestions
Source: Mark White, Better Business Blogging
Business blogging expert and coach Claire Raikes also advises bloggers to keep their audience in mind. "Ask yourself what are the most common questions, issues, and problems you hear from your target customers," she says. "Include case studies and testimonials. No one likes a show off but if a client tells you in an e-mail you're the best thing since sliced bread, why not blog it?"
If you write it, they will come
There are also search engine optimization (SEO) keywords to consider in your writing to give it more visibility in the search engine rankings. For instance, you can use the GoogleAdWords tool to research key terms your audience is looking for to include in the text.
Clever use of key words is just one of the ways you can get people onto your blog. There are a whole host of social media tools designed to attract traffic from sources other than search engines. MyBlogLog, for example, allows you to create a community around your blog, while Stumbleupon is a 'social bookmarking' site which can seriously multiply your usual traffic numbers.
Podcasting using iTunes and posting videos on YouTube can also help drive traffic to your site. By recreating your content in a video or audio format, you're able to put yourself out into those places as well. "You're creating welcome mats which lead back to your blog from all these different places around the Web," says White.
And remember that a blog is only a different type of Web site, so any strategy you've used in the past to market your own site can be used to market your blog. Raikes advises bloggers to spend time regularly visiting other, similar or related blogs and leave comments or posts there.
Making comments on other people's blogs doesn't necessarily benefit you from a search engine point of view because many of them have things called 'no follow' tags which stop the links back to your site from boosting your listing. However, it can't hurt to be associated with other key bloggers in your industry. If you make an intelligent comment, people will click on your name.
Technophobe friendly, sort of
This may sound complicated but to set all of this up doesn't require too much computer literacy. There are a large number of blog hosting sites and downloadable programs that can have you up and running in a matter of minutes, some of which are free.
WordPress is a free, downloadable blog publishing program commonly used by business bloggers. Another industry favorite is TypePad, a paid service that is slightly simpler to use. Far from being just publishing tools, small business bloggers have built entire Web sites using these applications as content management systems.
Regardless of which platform you choose and how many social bookmarking tools you employ, the most important thing for your blog is to take it as seriously as a marketing exercise. "It can be very worthwhile if you have a target and a reason for it," concludes White. "Often people start it without knowing what they want to achieve. It tends to meander for a while then falls by the wayside." Time wasted that could be better spent.