Blogging for beginners

So you’ve come round to thinking that any marketing strategy needs a blog of some kind, an opportunity to put across a personal view of your world and invite others to comment on it. But how do you find your audience?

A blog is a web page (maybe a collection of pages) and the same kind of promotional rules apply as for any website. Most of the search optimisation techniques outlined in Part 19 and 20 of the Marketing Toolkit, for instance, can be repeated for a blog site.

But there are a couple of special features about blogs, and if you can make the most of them you’ll be able to increase traffic to your blog. In particular, blogs are wordy: yes, you can include pictures and graphics, but basically they are text-heavy – because they’re typically opinionated, with comment to follow, and that means the contributors will be exercising the verbals.

Rule one then is keep the content good. It doesn’t have to be earth-shattering or vital or unmissable; it just has to be interesting, something that makes the reader think “I’ll carry on reading” and then “I’ll come back here again”.

A commercial blog, one that supports your business’s marketing, will probably rely heavily on products, services and corporate developments. That’s fine, provided you can find ways to make that stuff interesting. If you can’t, just run a brief note outlining the issue and giving a link to the formal press release.
However you handle that material, it makes sense to mix in comment postings and personal opinion pieces. Don’t let major industry changes or Government moves pass by without you getting the chance to air some views; if something occurred to you while fishing or watching Arsenal on the TV or clapping at you daughter’s school sports day, so much the better. It all makes you look and sound like a real person.

Writing style
On the other hand, real people stammer and mumble. Here’s rule two: pay attention to the writing itself. Write well – correct spelling of course, but also correct punctuation, correct grammar, correct uses of apostrophes and capital letters. There are good reasons for those rules of English: they help the punter understand exactly what you’re saying.

Within those structures you can still play around with a personal style. Most people have a characteristic style of talking, a way of using metaphors and organising the words that immediately identifies you. Many of us find it difficult to do the same thing when they’re writing, so most of the web is filled with a bland uniformity of expression.
Work at finding the right style, meaning a style of expression that fits both you and what you’re writing about. Visitors will value that sense of personality. And if you’re unwilling or unable to find the best style, pay a professional writer – a freelance journalist, say – to give you a hand.
Write for your audience. A good way to build a community of visitors is to cultivate one quite deliberately. Write for a particular kind of reader; use language and concepts you think they’ll recognise. Even if you get it wrong, this focus will help give your writing coherence and help you develop a strong voice.
Whatever your writing style, work at keeping things tight. As a rule that means short paragraphs and short posts. Sometimes you need the lengthy piece; but you should always aim to trim the verbal flab, be succinct, get the information out there, move on. Most blog visitors will be touring round a few regular stopovers, so don’t give them any excuse to get bored. You can always come back a day or so later and add a few more (equally succinct) paragraphs in you need to.
Then make sure you publish regularly. Once you’ve established a tone of voice and inspired some interest, don’t let your audience down. Post regularly, and post frequently; otherwise they’ll stop coming.

Be searchable
Blogs and blog posts are naturally search engine friendly because they are text-rich, link-rich, frequently-updated web pages that use stylesheets and have very little extraneous HTML. So use all the usual techniques to help search engines find your blog site – meta tags, titles, heading tags, optimised text, link exchanges, the lot.

Some specifics for blogs: always use meaningful (aka keyword-heavy and searchable) titles on your posts along with your post page archiving. And try to be descriptive when you blog, including desired keyword search-for terms in your posts as well as titles. Use your primary keywords in the title of your post, use your secondary keywords in the body of your post, use your keywords in the anchor text of links in the body of your posts.
Your blog’s URL should of course contain the primary keyword you want to optimize for.
Link to other blogs. You’ll get links back almost as a matter of course. Links are the currency of the blogosphere, and links between blogs are actually more valuable than links between conventional websites simply because of the personal angle.
Install a blogroll. This is nearly the same as linking, except that it lists the bloggers you like rather than individual blog posts that have impressed. It’s a very simple social networking scheme, but it is very effective.
But don’t expect the blogroll to be treated by search engines as a set of link pointers: the blogroll is a handy link list manager for your blog, but all it does is provide a bit of JavaScript code that calls the links – and search engine spiders can’t read external JavaScript.
Of course you need to submit your blog address to Google and other search engines and directories, but make sure you also submit to the growing band of blog-specific search sites. Try Googling for ‘blog directories’ or something similar. And take a look at Ping-O-Matic (http://pingomatic.com); this is a service that can tell different search engines – you select from the list — that your blog has been updated.

Be available
Most blog-making software allows you to create an RSS ‘feed’ for your site; you should always include an RSS option on your blog. RSS is a way of allowing visitors to sign up to automatically receive notifications that a new post has appeared on your blog, so they don’t actually have to visit your site regularly to see whether anything new has been published.

To use RSS content the visitor needs a bit of software called a ‘RSS reader’ or a ‘feed aggregator’ – some web browsers include one anyhow (like Firefox and Internet Explorer 7), sometimes the software adds a new folder to Outlook and downloads the RSS feed into the mail program, sometimes it’s a stand-alone program than has to be run separately.
The user ‘subscribes’ to a feed by entering a link to your blog’s RSS page. The reader can then check your blog from time to time; and if there’s anything new, it can retrieve the content for the user.
You can help search engines and other web-indexing programs locate your RSS feed by putting this within the <head> element of your blog’s web page:
<link rel="alternate"
type="application/rss+xml"
title="RSS"
href="http://your.blogsite/file.rss">

What’s a blog
A blog (originally ‘web log’) is a single web page that can be updated with fresh content from the original author — and usually from visitors too, in the form of comments on a ‘posting’ by the writer. The most recent additions appear first, along with any comments, and previous material gets shuffled down the page.


A blog page can feature anything that a conventional web page can include – a search tool, a calendar, images, links to other pages and other sites, and so on. But it doesn’t have to: a simple blog can be a text-only page, such as a sequentially presented diary or an ongoing to-and-fro discussion on a particular topic.

Top Tips
1. Most of the blogs out there are personal rather than commercial. But blogs work best when they are personal; find ways to put a personal slant on your business posts.
 
2. Once you’ve settled on the right blogging software, put some effort into finding out what it can do. Look for useful add-ins and blog-making extras; teach yourself how to use the software’s page design features to make sure your site doesn’t look like every other blog produced with that software.
 
3. Be an active blogger. Keep your own blog ticking over with frequent posts. Aim for 3-5 times per week, though each post must be worth reading .Not sure if you have enough information or comment to justify regular posting? Get into to the habit of splitting big ideas into smaller ones, then add the follow-on information as a separate post.
 
4. Be an active blogger. Visit other blogs regularly, and try to leave at least one comment every time you read a blog. It’s reassuring for the other blogger, and most comment systems also provide a way for you to leave a link back to your own blog.
 
5. Use social networking services, forums and discussion threads to connect with other bloggers. If they like what you have to say and the way you say it, they will link to you.
 
6. Remember when web sites were a shiny new idea and the inside advice was to print your web address anywhere you might have given your phone number? The same applies for your blog site..