YOUR WEBSITE NEEDS A BLOG
'Business Blogging Now' written in February 2005 recommended that most companies looking for growth would be well served by having a business blog. At that time it was quite novel for a company to have a blog. Since then many fine business blogs have appeared. With the passage of time, the arguments have become even stronger for having a business blog. However it is instructive to take a step back and see what can be learned from the last 18 months of business blogging. This newsletter will suggest some different ways that can make business blogging even more selling-effective.
If you are not familiar with blogs and blogging, you may find it useful to read that earlier newsletter first. It provides an excellent introduction to the subject. However this newsletter is independent of that newsletter and can be read without prior knowledge of blogs and blogging.
THE REASONS WHY YOU NEED A BUSINESS BLOG
There are three key reasons why you need a business blog:
1. A business blog is the ideal format for informing and maintaining a dialogue with customers and prospects.
2. The news feed for a business blog provides instant alerts to industry movers and shakers.
3. The blog architecture is extremely search-engine friendly, particularly using categories.
When you read the fuller explanation of these reasons, you will very likely find the logic extremely persuasive.
THE DOWNSIDES OF BUSINESS BLOGGING
Since the reasons for business blogging are powerful, perhaps we should discuss up front, the downsides of business blogging. There are two principal downsides.
A) There should be a clear purpose for the blog.
B) New content should be added to the blog on a regular basis (at least every second week and ideally more frequently).
Although these have been introduced as downsides, they can be seen as reminders of what an effective marketing company should be doing anyway. If the company wishes to grow sales, then this can only be done by a strong communication process with prospects and customers. This can be an ideal purpose for the company blog. As sales of products and services grow strongly, there will undoubtedly be exciting news and information to transmit to prospects and customers.
Looking at this in another way, these items should not be seen as downsides of having a business blog. Instead if someone raises this as a problem, it should be seen as a possible flag on possible deficiencies in the company's marketing plan. Why is there no clearly defined flow of information to customers? This is an essential part of any sales growth plan.
If the need to communicate with customers is acknowledged, then there is no question that a blog is the most powerful way to do this.
CUSTOMER AND PROSPECT DIALOGUE
If the need for customer and prospect communication is accepted, what are the types of information that can be usefully transmitted? Here are some possibilities:
News - New products or services.
News - Special Time-limited Offers
News - New applications of the products and services offered.
News - Important customer contracts
News - Changes in the company team
FAQs - Responses to Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
Tutorials - Short articles on how to get more by using the products and services.
Once you acknowledge the need for a strong dialogue with prospects and customers, the problem is likely to be one of choosing and limiting what is presented rather than being lost for ideas on what should be posted.
WHAT IS A BUSINESS BLOG?
A business blog is a blog that's written by someone or a group of people in a company to communicate with the outside world. The original derivation of the word 'blog' is as a short form of the word 'weblog'. It's a journal maintained on the Internet for the general public. The software to create such blogs is free and makes the process of adding entries to the blog from time to time very easy. One of the most common and most effective is WordPress, which requires that the blog be hosted by a ISP or Host arranged by the owner of the blog. Google offers its free Blogger service, which includes a hosting service for the blog, but the blog can be exported to a Host of the author's choice.
REAL-TIME NEWS THROUGH NEWS FEEDS
One advantage of a blog is that a news feed is always produced in parallel with the actual entries when using most of the popular blogging softwares. A news feed is a summary of the recent entries in the blog, which is coded in a particular standard way (RSS or Really Simple Syndication) that can be read by news feed aggregators. News feeds are not coded in the same way as web pages although some of the modern browsers will display their contents. Internet Explorer Version 7, which will be released in the fall of 2006 and is now available in a Beta format, can do this. It is usually more convenient to use a news feed aggregator such as Bloglines. This can alert you to any news feed, which has a new entry on it, within an hour of this happening. A news feed can either give the full text of the entry or a summary. It always includes the Title and the date and time of the entry. For marketers or purchasers, it's a great way of maintaining a surveillance on developments in the marketplace. Your market radar screen is suddenly much more powerful.
The structure of a blog produces content that is very visible to the search engines. It also produces entries that have a goodly number of inlinks (or back links as Google calls them) to the blog pages. The reason for this is rarely described but is worth reviewing since it very simply shows why blogs are so powerful relative to standard web pages.
A single traditional web page is the only form in which its content appears. Traditional SEO then is concerned with ensuring that the content is displayed in the best way on the web page and that as many inlinks as possible can be created 'pointing' towards that single web page. The web page may have say 300 words to provide content to the search engines.
Consider now an entry on a blog. Suppose the entry contained say 300 words. Rather surprisingly the content in that entry now generates a number of much bigger web pages as well as creating a web page for the single entry. One web page that is created is the current view of the blog, which is a long scrolling web page that may contain the most recent entries. There's also a fairly long page that shows the archive for the month that again includes the current entry and other entries in the month. So automatically there are three web pages that contain the content from that single entry.
Where it gets particularly interesting is if the blogger is also assigning categories to the entries. Each category is another long web page containing the particular entry and other entries that have been assigned to that category. These category web pages are particularly strong in keyword searches since several entries may contain a given keyword. If a given entry is assigned to three categories, this generates three long category web pages that include the content from the single entry. So now we see that the content from that single entry is now present within six web pages.
There are also multiple internal links within the blog that strengthen the relevancy of these multiple web pages that are created when a single entry is posted. All this search engine visibility is an important bonus to the real purpose of the blog, which is to strengthen the dialogue with prospects and customers.
HOW BLOGS HAVE TENDED TO LINK TO COMPANY WEBSITES
The search engine visibility of blog entries means that prospects searching with key words may well arrive on one of the pages of the blog rather than on the website. If the blog is well constructed, it should then not be too difficult to click on a link that takes you to the company website. Anyone who has been blogging for some time may well have ended up with this approach where the blogs are somewhat independent of the company website but nevertheless provide ready links across to the company website.
This was the nature of blogs in the beginning. They were seen as a personal journal or weblog of an individual who happened to be part of an organization. Perhaps the most famous example of that is Robert Scoble, who has recently left Microsoft. His personal weblog, Scobleizer (started October 2005), was written from the heart but expressed without fear or favour his view of how Microsoft was doing. He is credited with changing the public perception of Microsoft and was the example for several thousand bloggers in Microsoft now.
His example can be seen over and over again. Blogs have been seen as personal journals. Randy Baseler, Vice-president Marketing, Boeing Commercial Airplanes in Seattle, started his blog in January 2005. Steve Rubel is another well-known blogger with his blog, Micropersuasion, started in November 2005. Another I enjoy is the blog that Sass Peress writes (started June 2005). He is the CEO and owner of ICP Solar, here in Montreal. He has interesting points of view on matters that affect his business and his corner of the world. It can be found on the ICP website if you look for it. Another lively Montreal blog is that of Mitch Joel of Twist Image (started July 2004).
The weblogs associated with SMM are done in the same way by a single author. There are three of them:
- BPWrap: Internet Marketing From A Different Point Of View (started March 2004)
- The Other Bloke's Blog: Internet Marketing And Business From A Montreal Perspective (started February 2005)
- StayGoLinks: A View Of The Mobile World From A Desktop Perspective (started July 2006)
They can be found within the SMM website, but they're not integrated into the website the way they could be.
Some business blogs perhaps provide a more sustainable format for a business by involving multiple authors. Perhaps one of the earliest and best is the GM Fast Lane Blog. This started in January 2005 with several entries from Bob Lutz, GM Vice Chairman. Since then others have added entries, but he still blogs from time to time. Perhaps it's natural for a company the size of GM with many websites that this blog seems to have an independent existence all of its own. However for companies that are smaller than GM, it is advantageous to link the company blog more directly into the company website. This is good for your prospects and customers and it's also good for the search engines.
HOW BLOGS SHOULD LINK TO COMPANY WEBSITES
The fact that most business blogs are written by a single author and are not very visible on the company website is something that is linked to the Past or the History of business blogging. If we look to the Future of business blogging, then we may wish to break the mold.
Business blogs can of course continue as 'vanity items', but it is better to consider them as one of the most powerful weapons in the marketing armoury. With this mindset, we may well wish to change the way they are created and operated. Please note that this does not imply a major change in the content of blog entries. This is the age of Permission Marketing. If you want to have a dialogue with your prospects and customers, then you will need to engage their interest. That's no different from any blog.
To use a business blog to the fullest, it must be turned into a gateway into the company website. The blog will be the most search-engine visible part of the company website. So when someone arrives on a blog entry, they should find it easy to wander off elsewhere on the company website and explore what the company is all about. One website that is a good example of this is the website of thinkprospect, an Australian web design company run by Sophie Wegat. Here is the website header:
It also is the header for the blog, as you might have guessed. If you're in the blog, then you're in the website.
For a typical manufacturing or service company, you might therefore incorporate the following type of horizontal navigation menu bar in your header. The blog is a seamless part of the website. When a prospect lands on a blog entry from a keyword search then they can quickly see what else on the website might be of interest to them. (Please note that although the buttons function as buttons, clicking on them leaves you where you are.)
Most webmasters may well find this is now almost a no-brainer decision. Of course the blog should be a seamless part of the website. Well, let's just explore that idea a little. The blog presumably contains interesting information about the company and what it is doing. However someone coming to the website may not understand what the word blog means. That blog choice on the navigation bar sparks no interest in them. Isn't blog a word used only by technogeeks? How can we make sure that this section of the website is attractive to all visitors and not just the computer-savvy visitors?
DOES A BLOG NEED TO BE A BLOG?
We now enter a somewhat more controversial aspect of our subject. Does a blog need to be a blog? Here perhaps we can learn from some other websites that seem to be very successful. Both have been redesigned this year and both are parts of newspapers. The Canadian Globe & Mail Online edition has many of the characteristics of a blog and even looks somewhat like a blog. The New York Times Online edition looks a little more like a traditional newspaper, but again has many features of a blog. Both add entries from time to time and both have news feeds.
A business blog may contain more than news. It could more often be described as News & Views. So if your website design allows, you might want to use News & Views as the label instead of that Blog word. More likely News will be a sufficient description of what the Blog contains and you could use only the single word. If that fits your situation then you might see a navigation bar that looks like this.
So behind that News button you will find a traditional blog as others might call it. Provided it is written in the right way, then prospects or customers will find news items that will be of interest to them. Just as importantly, this will likely be the way most people who find your website via a keyword search will come. Remember that the blog format is much more search engine friendly than a traditional web page. All you must ensure is that however people arrive here they can be enticed to explore other parts of the website.
The use of the word News supports a notion mentioned in previous newsletters on how a website can establish credibility with potential customers. The letters, NBC, for News, "Bodies" and Customers help to remind you of these important factors. The company should be making News. It should have an enthusiastic team, eager to serve and deliver satisfaction. It should have existing customers who can vouch for the excellent service offered by the company. This navigation menu bar makes it easy to explore these NBC factors for the company.
A business blog can be the most powerful part of your website. It does require that you have things you want to be saying to prospects and customers, but that's part of any effective marketing plan. Follow the ideas presented above to make your business blog a welcoming introduction to your website. Done well it will significantly increase the traffic to the website and the volume of sales generated by the website.
If you require help with this, then SMM will be happy to help you figure out your best approach. Our help can be configured to meet exactly the needs you have. Our strengths, experience and creativity can complement those of your company. So write us a Message today on what you're looking for without obligation.
Added to site 14 August 2006
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