Blogging – Free and Easy

Blogs have started to become an essential weapon in the SME eMarketing armoury. Yet many small and medium sized businesses are reticent about starting up their own blog. “It’s too difficult” and “We can’t afford it” being the most frequent excuses.

Mark Bonnett, E-Business Consultant at the National B2B Centre, provides some guidance to help you overcome the obstacles and get the benefits from having your own blog.

Get Started with Blogging
Blog as you well may know is a shortened form of the word “weblog” and it is essentially a type of website that involves posting regular content, which ranges from the latest news to thought provoking articles.

But why should you start a blog for your business?

The Benefits
There are many reasons if you can commit the time to write posts and pay the level of attention to your blog that it deserves. A key point is that you should consider your blog as part of your online marketing effort and recognise that it can be as important as your main website.

One of the main reasons businesses start a blog is to help their company with their search engine performance.

Search engines like blogs because they;

  • tend to get updated regularly
  • have a logical structure
  • contain lots of quality focused content

As a result the search engines seem to pay particular attention to the “blogosphere” (the collective noun for the world’s blogs). When we post on our blog at the B2B Centre we often find that Google has found and indexed it for people to find within 24 hours.

This can help your business in a number of ways.

1./ Your “footprint” on the web can be extended very easily – you become more visible to searches.

2./ Your blog provides a quick and convenient way of letting your potential customers find you.

3./ By including keyword rich links back to appropriate pages on your website you can help to enhance the ranking for those keywords on your website. For instance, “Check out the B2B Centre’s range of expert articles on eBusiness topics.”

There are also strong marketing reasons for using and maintaining a blog

  • You get a great way to keep in touch with your customers by allowing them to read your posts and giving them an opportunity to react by posting comments on your posts, which can be anonymous or named. Visitors can even subscribe to an RSS (Really Simple Syndication) feed, which means they will get automatically updated with new posts.
  • A blog provides a great way of showing off your expertise in your field by posting well written articles about your subject.
  • You can write about what you have done for your customers, which allows you to show that you are at the top of your field and demonstrate credibility to visitors. If you do this it will help you generate new leads from people finding your blog rather than your main website and help with lead conversion.

The great thing is that if you wanted you could have a blog set up for free 5 minutes after reading this article by using a service such as Google’s Blogger or WordPress.com.

Your blog is hosted for free and you get a variety of tools to help you, for instance, enter information or change the look and feel. The only cost in this case is your own time.

The Downsides
Despite all the attractive reasons above, blogging does have its downsides.

If you do start a blog for your business you must keep it up: there’s nothing worse than a blog that has a last entry 6 months old. Writing good blog posts takes time and effort and you need think about what you are writing. It’s a good idea to devise a plan of when you’re going to post something new and stick to it.

One of the issues I find most annoying with blogs is all the comment spam that blogs tend to attract. There are some useful tools out there to stop spam but there’s always some that gets through! Be prepared to manage comments on your blog carefully.

Whilst there are lots of free designs for blogs out there, if you want a unique look for your business blog be prepared to work with a web company and graphics person to create a unique and stylish look for your blog. Of course if you don’t have these skills in house be prepared to pay.

If you think promoting your main website is hard work you’ll need to put in a similar kind of effort to promote your blog otherwise no one will see it! You’ll need to optimise your blog for search engines and promote it using methods such as links from other websites and email signatures. Also don’t forget about offline promotion such as putting a blog link on business cards and letters.

On most blogs you allow visitors the opportunity to comment on each post you make. This is generally a good thing because it helps to build a relationship with customers and potential customers. However it can lead to negative comments that criticise your products, company or staff, for instance. As long as you deal with comments professionally you’ll have no problem.

Finally be careful what you write on your blog. If you’re writing something negative about someone it may come back and bite you through legal action. If you’re writing online you’re a published author with your content out there for anyone to see so think before you write and don’t post when you’re angry!

Blogging Services and Software
So you’ve decided to start a blog, where do you start?

There are hundreds of different types software out there that will allow you build a blog, some are free and some will cost you money. Let’s look at the most popular options.

If you don’t want to spend any money at all
Both Google’s Blogger and WordPress.com offer services where you can create a blog and it is hosted for you for free. These blogging tools are very easy to use and are great if you’re not an internet whizz. You can have a blog set up in minutes and all you need to do is register on their websites.

You can call your blog pretty much what you like but the name will include the domain name of the service provider (e.g. a B2B Centre blog set-up using Blogger would look like something like http://www.nb2bcblog.blogspot.com).

Having a different domain name to your website is not disadvantageous. You get the potential benefit of creating external links and from a marketing perspective the fact that the blog is separate allows it to be less formal.

It is possible to do some customisation of templates with these services and add “gadgets” that provide additional features. A slight drawback with the service is that you don’t get so many “add- ons” (mini programmes that allow you to extend your blog) as you get with fully customisable blog software.

If you’re willing to spend money
If you’re willing to spend money you should look at WordPress.org (http://wordpress.org ) and Typo (http://wiki.github.com/fdv/typo/ ). The blog software is free but you may to need to buy a domain name and some web hosting to get your blog up and running. It may be possible to use existing webhosting too. If you’re not an IT person you’ll need someone to set it up for you, which may cost you money if you don’t have an IT person in your company.

With this approach you get more flexibility and control over your blog: you can have a unique design (even the same as your website) with as many different add-ons as you like. WordPress has almost 4000 different add-ons, mainly free, which provide photo galleries, SEO tools and information feeds, for instance. You have the choice of domain names too, so the blog is more directly associated with your brand (i.e. www.yourdomain.yourblog.co.uk) – some people find this more comfortable than an external domain name.

In fact it is possible to configure blogs in these environments to such a degree that they essentially become website building tools. For small websites (up to say 10-15 pages) they may be a definite option.

Conclusion
Blogs are easy to set up and could be a valuable tool in your eMarketing efforts. The great thing is that you can try them out for no cost and a relatively small amount of effort.

Let us know how you get on via Twitter!