There are a plethora of blogs out there to wade through on the ‘net. What will make your blog stand out? What are some common mistakes made in setting up a business blog? At ShuttleBox we set up just about as many blogs for businesses as we do other non-blogging software, so we are very aware of the pros and cons of blogging, as well as the right and wrong ways of going about it. In this article we’ll look at some of the very basics. If you’ve been around the blog-block before, please feel free to contribute your thoughts. If not, then this article is for you.
Find Your Tool – Hosted Web-Application vs. Open Source Self-Hosted Solution
Before you can get started actually blogging, you need to find a way to blog. There are many different blogging solutions available. As of this writing, there are some clear leaders in the blogging world. Sites like Posterous and Tumblr make blogging an absolute breeze and offer tons of customization options. Blogger has been around for over a decade now. WordPress offers both a hosted and self-hosted solution and, with hundreds of WordPress plugins and themes available, is the most popular solution for serious bloggers.
The best thing about all these solutions is that they are all free. The hosted solutions come with advertising however, typically for the blogging software, but sometimes for third-parties. If you are serious about a long-term blog, you should likely commit to setting up WordPress on a web host somewhere. There are many different hosting options available and there are ways to find a good provider without too much effort. By hosting your own blog, you get to control the features, more easily control the look and feel, and can customize it with functionality you want or need. The nice thing about open source solutions is that they can be modified to do anything!
If you anticipate needing heavy modifications to get the job done, you may want to consider implementing a custom solution. WordPress, as well as other open source solutions Joomla and Drupal, can work as content management systems to run your entire site. Drupal recently started Drupal Gardens, a hosted version of the Drupal software.
Find Your Home – Get Your Domain On
Regardless of choosing a hosted or self-hosted solution, branding is king. It is important to make sure that your blog is directly tied to your brand, and not to the brand of the software you are using. Fortunately, all solutions mentioned above allow you to use custom domains for their services. Using this feature, you can change the domain from something along the lines of yourbusiness.bloggingsoftware.com to something more pleasing like blog.yourbusiness.com. This can help build trust with your readers, clients, and potential clients, and can even help with search engine optimization.
If you are using a self-hosted solution, you’ll see even more rewards for using the software as part of your main domain, such as www.yourbusiness.com/blog. Search engines give authority to sites that have been around for a while, have good content, and are frequently updated. By hosting your blog on your main domain, you inherit the authority you have built up with your existing site. Use a new subdomain and you start with no authority causing your content to take longer to make it in to search results and pushing it down lower in the result listing.
While it is fine to link to your personal blog on your business site, it shouldn’t be presented as your business blog. Keep the personal and the professional separate. Furthermore, when linking to a personal blog, ensure that you don’t have anything showing shady going on. One business blog I follow, which happens to be a personal blog being presented as the blog for the business, is written on a hosted blogging platform that links the author of a blog to their profile – and the other blogs they contribute too. It turns out that the author of the web development blog also has a hacking blog.
Remember that your blog is one of many faces you are presenting to the public. Make sure it is professional and, well, doesn’t link your business to illegal activities!
Find Your Look
We’re back to branding! Since your blog represents your business, it is important that it matches the look and feel of your site. Preferably your blog theme will match your site’s theme. If it can’t do this or you want to make it look different for some reason, at least keep the style the same. The continuity should be there, with colors and styles being familiar to folks visiting both your main site and your blog. Just as you wouldn’t change the colors in your logo across mediums, you shouldn’t have a blog that looks completely different than your site.
If you are not hosting your own blog, consider adding links to your blog that represent the navigation of your main site to keep things consistent. Some folks who feel they have locked themselves into a hosted blog solution (you can always move, but some folks are fearful to do so), have gone to the extent of having their main site match their blog to achieve this consistency between blog and site.
Hosting your blog on your site, or even even incorporating your site into your blog, allows for the tightest integration and most seamless transitions between blog entries and site pages.
Find Your Topic
Always remember for whom you are writing. It is not you! It is your readers! Write what they want to read, not what you want to read. I read programming blogs, but I wouldn’t dare write about enumerating resource dictionary keys or the benefits of implementing an abstract class in object oriented PHP. I can see the eyes glazing over right now, so I’ll stop right there and get back to the topic of blogging. Why? Because most of our readers and clients are not programmers and don’t want to know anything about programming. The majority of our readers are business owners who are interested in incorporating technology into their business to improve work flow and business processes – including communicating with their clients via a blog. They are concerned with the results of what we do, not how we do it.
Another common mistake made by new bloggers is wandering off topic. You want your blog to be about something. If your business sells pet food, you probably should keep the blog entries about your favorite movie and how to cook the perfect spaghetti sauce on your personal blog. Loyal readers will follow your blog because the topic is of interest to them.
Conversely, when picking your topic, however, don’t make your focus too narrow. Using the same pet food business reference from above, you shouldn’t blog solely on the rare Devon Rex breed of cat. You will inadvertently limit your readership to those who care about such a specific topic and will quickly run out of things to blog about.
Think about radio stations for a moment. A station that plays every type of music will have few listener, as will a station that only plays music by one artist. Find a good niche, not too narrow and not too broad, focus on providing quality content, and you’ll be set!
Find Your Voice
Got your blogging software going? Check. A good home on the web? Of course. A fresh and snappy theme that jives well with your brand and main site? Heck yeah. A topic you are in love with? Yup. Now write!
As we’ve discussed in other articles, it is important to update your content frequently and to follow through on promises you make to readers about how often you will update. A site that promises weekly updates and hasn’t been updated in three months is as good as dead. While most professionals will say a blog should be updated daily, most people cannot afford the time needed to support that frequency.
A good blog, in my opinion, will be updated with new content at least weekly. I’m sure others may disagree, some arguing the need for more frequent postings, and some saying it is reasonable to let a couple weeks go by between updates. It really depends on what your business can maintain and what your readers expect. Keeping existing customers up to speed on business happening may not require as many updates as a blog that is trying to increase readership with potential customers.
A new blog doesn’t come with immediate readers. It is important to spread the word. Use social media and traditional marketing to share your new blog and the content within it. This will help to bring in new readers. To turn these readers into loyal readers, you should give them the ability to be notified of new content on the blog. As much as one might hope for it, folks won’t be checking out a web site daily just in case there is a new blog entry. To allow folks to know when there is new content, offer an RSS feed of your articles. All of the blogging solutions mentioned above have RSS built in. If you incorporate a service such as FeedBurner into your site (you just give them the URL to your RSS feed), you can receive statistics about people subscribing to your RSS feed and even offer your readers an e-mail subscription of your updates.
You need to bring people into your blog, capture their interest, keep them reading. Most successful businesses have a blog in some form or fashion. The key is to not expect the masses to arrive overnight. It takes time and commitment; if you lack in either one of those, the reality is it may not be worth your effort. While a successful blog can bring you great rewards, a dead blog can prove to be a hindrance to your business. No blog is better than a bad blog that doesn’t pertain to the readers or is only updated once every few months.