For small businesses, blogs are useful for communications, PR, and marketing purposes. They can also be used as a content management system for a Web site. If you’re thinking of starting a blog for your small business, here are 10 tips:
1. Set goals and answer, “Why are we starting a blog?”
Do this before going out and registering a domain name or anything else. Is the blog going to serve as a journal for starting the business? Is it a search marketing tool? Is it to be used to demonstrate thought leadership and create credibility? Will it be a communication tool for customers? Will it also serve as the main company Web site? Is the purpose some or all of the above?
2. Decide your address.
If the purpose of the blog is to support company brand and audience, then the URL should be part of the company Web site. Ideally, the blog hosting situation allows for a sub directory such as companysite.com/blog. Otherwise, a sub-domain such as blog.companysite.com will work and you can can host the blog elsewhere, separate from the company Web servers. (IT will like that.)
If the purpose of the blog is independent of the primary company brand, or messaging, then a dedicated domain name such as topicgoeshereblog.com might work better.
It’s tempting to use a keyword-only domain name, but those keywords will not be a silver bullet for search engine rankings. A catchy, meaningul brand name for the blog will go much farther as content can always be optimized for search engine rankings.
3. What blog software to use?
In most cases, WordPress is the way to go. An inexpensive Linux platform hosting account that supports PHP and mySQL can be secured for $10-$20 per month. However, should the blog get really popular, expect to upgrade to support increased demand. It’s entirely worth it.
The blog software will need to be installed on the server that will host it and the database will also need to be set up. This is fairly straightforward, but in all honesty, it’s best to have someone that knows what they’re doing help. As an example, I do very little of the technical work on our blog and prefer to have a specialist (Thomas McMahon) take care of maintenance, adding plugins, design, and functionality updates. We have outside programmers do any heavy lifting in the application development department.
WordPress software is open source, ie free, so if you are code/technically savvy and you have the time to figure it out, it’s certainly doable. There is no one “right way” to setup a blog. There are literally hundreds of shades of gray.
It can cost a hundreds to thousand of dollars for a blog consultant to install, set up, and customize the design of your blog. You’re not paying for the software, you’re paying for expertise that will save you MONTHS of time and allow you to get to market more quickly and efficiently.
4. Modify the design.
After installation of the core blog software, there are a number of customization tasks.
The second set of customization tasks involves plug-ins to improve the adminstration, front end functionality and the SEO friendliness of the blog.
5. Plan your content.
In concert with the purpose of the blog, it’s important to generate a basic editorial guideline for creating content. The easiest way to manage this is by creating categories for the kinds of content you plan on posting.
Before you create those categories, it’s a good idea to do some keyword research as the categories will become excellent repositories of related content. Why not make it even easier for search engines to understand and rank them?
Once you identify which keyword phrases best represent the content you’ll be publishing, use them to name your content categories. Each time you make a blog post, that entry will be associated with one or more categories, creating a very search engine friendly repository of content.
Create an editorial calendar or schedule of posts to keep you on topic for your audience and true to the purpose of the blog. Leverage interactions with blog readers as well as your analytics to know if your content and keyword picks are productive or not.
6. Who will blog?
In the case of most small businesses, the blogging team is a team of one. That’s fine, just be sure to document what’s working and what’s not so when the time comes, you can get your blogging team mate up to speed quickly.
Since blogger’s block (like writer’s block) can really dampen a good thing for a small business blog, go ahead and keep a good number of posts in draft mode. Add to them as you get new ideas and inspiration. Or facts and examples. That way, you’ll have a steady stream of blog posts ready to publish in advance. In fact, you can schedule blog posts in advance using WordPress.
7. Plan to interact.
Blogging in a vaccum is inevitable blogging death. It’s essential that you solicit comments in your posts, respond to comments quickly, create and enforce a commenting policy. Don’t covet the comments either. Visit other blogs in your industry and write useful comments. Those bloggers may notice you and it can become something more, like an invite for a guest post, collaboration or simply a new online friend.
Make it easy for readers of your blog to save and share your content with sharing buttons or widgets. It pays to create accounts on the more popular services and develop social networks there. Your contacts on Digg, Delicious, StumbleUpon and similar services will watch for your next post and vote for the good stuff, which can drive your content to be exposed on more popular areas of those Web sites. More exposure can mean more traffic.
RSS feeds come with blogs and it’s worth taking the time to make sure the RSS feed is readily available and obvious for people to subscribe. Submit your blog and RSS feed to our HUGE list of blog and RSS directories.
Set up social profiles on sites such as Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn as appropriate and automate the sharing of links from your blog posts to those services. In other words, you could use a service like TwitterFeed to publish your latest blog post to Twitter and Facebook automatically.
Be sure to publish your blog URL everywhere you publish your web site address.
9. Make your pages.
If you’re using the blog as a CMS for a small business Web site, then make your static Web pages such as those for About our Company, Product/Service pages, Contact Forms, etc. The blog can be customized to have a home page like any other Web site as well. That way, visitors arriving on your site can see what they expect from a company selling products/services. At the same time, blogging creates a rich and frequent source of useful content that’s syndicated via RSS, promoted automatically to relevant social channels and leaves the door open for interaction via comments.
10. Use blog and social media analytics.
It’s important that you set goals for the blog, a plan to execute tactics and most of all, measure progress. Most Web site measurement is focused on web analytics and metrics specific to different types of marketing such as with email, SEO or PPC. Standard web analytics software such as Google Analytics will address the vast majority of your needs.
For more small business blogging tips, visit Online Marketing Blog.