Do I really still need a blog? This is a question that still comes up these days, in fact, with all the talk of Twitter and social media, blogs may have seemed to fall out of favor.
What’s really happened is that they have worked themselves into the fabric of everyday marketing. People don’t fire up their browser because they want to read your blog, but they do go to Bing and other search engines to find answers to questions and challenges and to find local suppliers. Blog content is what they are finding.
A blog primer
In simplest terms, a blog is software that allows anyone who can type to post content to a website or blog home page. The content is generally displayed much like a journal might be written, in reverse chronological fashion.
This content can be anything the author chooses to write, or post, as it is referred to in blogging terms.
Now, on the surface, what this means is that anyone can update a website that has this blogging software installed and that’s a great thing. Websites benefit from change and blogs make it easy to change, update, and add content.
But, there’s much more.
Blog software also allows:

  • Readers of the blog pages to make comments and add their own content.
  • Readers of the blog to subscribe to the content so that they are automatically notified whenever the content is updated.
  • Search engines to receive notice or pings whenever the content is updated.

All of the above items happen automatically once the software is configured.
Blogging is such a great tool because it allows you to more easily accomplish many of the marketing objectives that today’s small business must address.
A blog is your ticket to creating:

  • Content
  • Context
  • Connection
  • Community

And if that isn’t enough, know this—search engines love blogs! If for no other reason, consider creating and frequently posting relevant, keyword-rich content to a blog, hosted on your domain, because it will dramatically improve your changes of ranking well in the search engines.

The best way to start blogging
If this document has convinced you to jump in and start blogging, let me advise you that the best way to start is not to start. I know that’s a little counterintuitive, so let me explain.
Here’s the three-step process for getting started and note that step 3 is to start blogging.

  1. Monitor a group of relevant blogs: Use a blog search engine and RSS reader such as Bloglines.com or Google Reader/BlogSearch to locate and subscribe to a dozen or so relevant blogs—blogs in your industry, competitors, experts, etc. Learn how people blog, what they write about and how they engage their readers.
  2. Comment on a group of relevant blogs: Visit some of your chosen blogs and add relevant comments. Engage in the conversation going on inside these blogs. This, by the way, is an important part of online networking and may help get your blog noticed down the road.
  3. Create your own blog and start posting content: Only after you’ve engaged in steps 1 and 2 for a couple weeks do I advise entering the blogging pool.

Blogging software
As mentioned previously, blogs are run by software, so one of your first chores is to determine what software you want to use and get it set up.
A quick search for blog software will turn up dozens of options. But for the sake of this publication, we are going to focus on just a few of the leading choices: WordPress.org: WordPress.org offers a free, open-source blogging tool that has many things going for it. This is the tool I use on my blog and it’s hard to imagine going wrong with this tool. This is software that you download, configure, and upload to your Web host. Because it is open source there are also many beneficial add-ons and plug-ins that can add even more power to the software.

The downside, if there is one, is that you must be able to get through a bit of technical tinkering to make it work, but it’s very straightforward.
WordPress.com: This is a hosted version of the WordPress software that allows you to easily create a blog that is hosted by WordPress. The benefit of this approach is that there is no real setup, you simply sign up (it’s free), choose a theme, and start blogging.
The downside with hosted blogging platforms is that they are not as flexible and might not deliver as much search engine benefit because the content does not reside on your website domain.
TypePad.com: TypePad is another great hosted service with many features and a simple startup process.
Compendium Blogware: Business-targeted blog system that works around targeting keywords and phrases.
Windows Live Spaces: Based on simplicity and familiarity, Windows Live Spaces offers users a free, quick, and easy way to get started blogging.

5 tips for getting more from your blog

  1. Read, follow, and listen. You probably won’t get much in the way of results from blogging until you know what and how to write. The best way to do that, and by the way something I’ve done and continue to do daily, is read lots of blogs. Follow lots of people who point out interesting reads, listen using RSS and bookmarking sites like Delicious, and read every question your prospects and customers voice. Use an RSS reader such as Google Reader to make it very easy to listen to lots of content and then get a little notebook and carry it with you at all times so you can jot down every question customers and prospects ask.
  2. Write what people search. If you’re one of those folks who has resisted blogging because you don’t think anyone would read your blog, don’t worry; they probably won’t. Most blogs aren’t read like a magazine, or like you might view it. They are found. In other words, post the answers to the questions, problems, and challenges that you know your market is asking and seeking and your blog content will become the single greatest online lead generation tool in your mix. Discover the exact phrases people in your market are using when they search and write valuable content around that and people will find your blog before they know your competitors exist.
  3. Ask for participation. Blogging is one of the first ways to build an engaged community. People talk about building community on Twitter and other social sites, but few things can compare to the engagement that can surround healthy debates, reader-generated content, and suggestions in blog comments. Write your blog posts in ways that invite people to comment. Ask for their ideas, and even ask them to give their opinions. Often, some of my points are amplified and made better through the comment stream that can surround them. Over time, you will build community participation and you may find that blogging is more fun when it becomes a conversation.
  4. Engage your comment community. When people take the time to offer thoughtful comments you should take the time to respond when appropriate. If a debate is in order, it’s OK to start one. Visit the sites of your comment community and engage in their writing. Link to their content in your blog posts and on Twitter. You might also find that using comment enhancing plug-ins such as Disqus, the commenting system I use, or Top Commentators, which shows a list of the people who comment the most, can make your comment community more active.
  5. Amplify your message. One obvious way to get more exposure for your blog is to post links to Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn with each new post. As long as that’s not all you do, this can be an effective traffic strategy. Another great way to amplify and broaden the exposure for your blog is to guest blog. Many, sometimes high traffic, blogs welcome well-written content from guests. Look for blogs that should have your same type of reader and offer samples of your writing. Be sure that your posts will receive a byline and link back to your blog and then also promote the heck out your guest appearance.

My blog must-have plug-in list

 

  • Add to Any: a tool that makes it very easy for people to subscribe to your blog.
  • Disqus: interactive commenting system.
  • Twittertools: automatically adds your new blog posts to Twitter.
  • Google Sitemaps Generator: creates a sitemap of your blog in XML format and pings search engines.
  • Akismet: helps fight comment spam.
  • Related Entries: creates a list of blog posts related to your current one and inserts the list into your post.
  • All in One SEO: adds features that allow you to make each blog post even more SEO friendly.

How to get more blog comments
One of the best reasons to blog is to open up an interaction channel with your customers, prospects, and contacts. The fact that your readers can comment and add relevant content to your site via blog comments is a major breakthrough in the communication process. It’s why everyone is talking about social media these days. Blog commenting was one of the first mass, one-to-one conversation starters, and made people hungry for even more advanced forms of social interaction.
Active commenting is one of the first signs that a blog has some real life—with it comes more readers, so put in the work it takes to grow this important tool.
Small business owners can easily take advantage of this tool now that so many people know what it is and know how to interact, but you can do a few things to stimulate this interaction and draw more conversation.

1) Ask for comments. Sometimes just creating a post and inviting your readers to add comments can be just what you need to get them flowing. Commenting is a habit that you need to help build in your readership.
2) Ask questions and seek opinions. From time to time, ask your readers what they think of something or what they have done that works or how they have addressed a particularly challenging situation. You don’t need to have all the answers.
3) Comment on comments. When readers comment, you can encourage additional conversation by responding and showing that comments are welcome, even if the comment calls something you said into question. I’m guilty of ignoring this far too often. I’ll get better, I swear!
4) Show some humanness. No matter what your blog topic is, readers like to know that the author is a human being. It’s OK to let that show and to add personal thoughts. Only you can determine how far to go with this, but I know that your readers will connect the more they know your story
5) Stir the pot from time to time. You don’t have to be a celebrity gossip blogger to stir up a little controversy. Often some of my best interactions come from topics that people are decidedly passionate about.
6) Make comment participation a game. Keep score and reward your most active commentators. I have installed the WP Top Commentators plug-in that keeps track of how many comments a particular reader makes and rewards them with a link. You can see it in the left sidebar.
7) Make sure commenting is easy. Publish your comment feed and consider adding a Subscribe to Comments plug-in so that people get a notice when someone else comments on a post they are active on.

(Source: clipsed.com)