A blog is web-based publication that is updated regularly with blog posts. It can be part of a website as a news section, or it can be independent. Blog posts can be in any number of wildly different formats – e.g. informative articles, commentary, diary notes, video posts or photos, and some blogs make use of a combination of these styles. It is a very flexible, and more informative way of publishing than the ‘traditional’ website which has a set structure, is planned and updated periodically when content is deemed out of date.
Blog content can also be consumed in a number of ways, making this flexible publishing tool not only easy for the owner to use, but also the reader. True blogs are set up with ‘RSS’ installed (we will come to this later). Which allows the content to be ‘pulled in’ to whatever reading device or software the user wishes.
This document aims to outline some benefits of blogging, some advice on how to tell if it is suitable for you or not, tips on publishing a blog post, and ideas for topics and content.
Examples of well maintained blogs
Notes in Spanish
Notes in Spanish is a blog used in combination with a podcast. The podcast show notes, links to the audio files, commentary, news videos and tips are published as blog posts. The purpose of the blog is to encourage signups to the newsletter and a more importantly signups to a premium membership.
SimpleBits is developer’s blog written by Dan Cederholm, which covers news about the industry, the company’s twitter posts, quotes related to design and development, announcements of product launches, links to interesting design and other things he finds on the Internet. The purpose is to generate leads from people interested in the services he offers. Posts are short, varied and very frequent.
Our blog is used to help promote our main site, increase email subscriptions and encourage people to request further information about our services. We publish news about our company and our clients, articles about the online marketing industry, any events we’re going to or presenting at, tips about online marketing, and some general banter about the Internet.
Blogs are a great way of communicating in a very personal way with your audience, building your online presence, and quite frankly showing off. If you have specialist knowledge in your field, publishing tips and articles on your industry will not only give your users useful interesting content, but will also demonstrate that you know your stuff.
Blogs, when properly deployed, work very well with search and can be a very useful platform to support marketing campaigns. They can be so flexible – and you can embed different types of media to get your message across – images, video, text, links, presentations and audio.
Blogs use RSS, which makes the content available in ways that are easily consumed and used by your visitors, other websites and journalists.
What is RSS?
RSS is a technology used to publish frequently updated content in a standard format feed. The feed is used for distributing blog entries, news, podcasts (audio feeds), and video podcasts for example.
RSS helps get your content to the reader after they have left your site by letting them ‘syndicate’ content automatically. Meaning that when new content is available, subscribers to the feed will almost immediately have the content available in their chosen feed reader.
RSS allows users to subscribe to the latest updates from websites they are particularly interested in, or to view updates from many websites in one place.
Because people subscribe to your content, it enables you to deliver messages to an ‘opted in’ audience, and to continue the relationship with your visitor after they leave your site.
This is a tool that some writers, researchers and journalists use, because not only can you subscribe to RSS feeds from a number of sources, you can also receive news feeds of articles with a certain topic or keyword – for example ‘motor cross’ or ‘animals’.
So if you write a story, and publish it on your blog, there is a chance that a journalist specialising in a related subject will pick it up and republish elements of your content – leading to further publicity and traffic to your site.
How do you subscribe to RSS?
If a site has RSS enabled, it will usually have a button like this on the page or visible in the address bar of your browser:
Or text link saying something along the lines of “Subscribe via RSS” or “News Feed”.
To subscribe to an RSS feed, you click on the link to the feed and choose the feed reader you want to use to view your regular content. Alternatively, if your feed reader isn’t listed, you can copy the feed url and add it to your feed reader manually.
There are loads of feedreaders you can use, but I’ve listed some examples for you here:
Bloglines is an online service for searching, subscribing, creating and sharing news feeds, blogs and rich web content :
iGoogle which is a web based, and very easy to use. As it is web based, you can log in on any PC connected to the Internet to keep up with your feeds :
Microsoft Outlook 2007
Microsoft Outlook 2007, which is desktop based, and pulls in your RSS feeds and displays them like emails :
FeedDemon is one of the most popular feed readers, it is a desktop tool that allows you to customise the way feeds are organized and displayed, set up custom ‘news watches’ based on keywords or use search to find articles :
Should you set up a blog?
Good question… this is something you have to figure out yourself, but consider the following:
- Do you have time or resources to make regular blog posts on an ongoing basis?
- Do you have something to talk about?
- Can you offer something useful to your readers?
- Will it benefit your business?
- Is it something your target audience is likely to read?
The main reason why you should not bother is if you haven’t the time or resources to keep up the blog posts. If you have the will, you can always learn how to do it better.
Test your subject matter or format by sending it to a small selection of your contacts and request feedback or suggestions for future content.
How do you set up a blog?
There are a number of blogging platforms available that require very little design or customisation. There are blog tools that you can sign up for online, where you don’t need to download, host or install. You sign up for an account, choose the name for your blog, and log in to update your details, choose your design and start blogging – all of this can be done within an hour or two.
This is a great option for people with limited budget, or people who are just dipping their toes into the blogging scene.
Examples of blog providers that work this way:
- Live Journal
- Increase traffic
- Generate revenue from advertising
- Encourage signups to your newsletter
- Increase sales from your e-commerce store
- Generate leads
- Establish yourself as a thought leader in your field
- Promote events
The limitation is that you generally aren’t able to use your own domain name and don’t have full freedom to customise the design.
If you’re more serious about blogging, a more professional method is to have your blogging software installed on your servers along with your website. You can then choose to have www.yourdomain.com/blog or blog.yourdomain.com
You can also design your blog to match or compliment your existing website; you have much more flexibility with design than the online account.
We recommend WordPress.org for blogging software, but there are a number of other good tools you can use. You may be restricted by your web host as to which blogging software you can use. This is something you will need a designer/developer to help with, along with the actual installation and design.
We have a list of our favourite, and most useful plugins for WordPress that add functionality, or make it easier to rank well in the search engine results for your chosen phrases. This list is available on our blog.
Once you’ve set up your blog, what do you write?
This greatly depends on what the purpose of the blog is, who your target audience is and who is writing the content.
You may have a number of different goals –
A couple of examples:
To increase traffic and generate revenue from advertising
You could write very short, very frequent blog posts about the latest products and industry news. Lots of images and examples of these products in use. Your articles are short but very frequent, and about lots of different products because you don’t want to engage – you want people to click on the link and buy something elsewhere. The high frequency increases the chances you will get listed for a larger number of searches.
To generate signups to your newsletter or membership plan
Offer useful tips and how-to guides. Longer, more in depth articles. With each blog post, remember to mention that you get so much more ‘members only’ content if you subscribe.
To generate leads
You could write about the ongoing work you do, develop case studies and write articles about the success, the process, before and after pictures, graphs showing the improvement, quotes, testimonials and talk about any industry awards you’re going for. If you’re open about how you do it, you may get people who are in the same industry, but trying to improve following you, bookmarking the site, and linking to you. This all boosts your search engine rankings.
This is up to you. You write the rules for the way your blog is run.
If there will be a number of bloggers, agree on a blogging policy between yourselves. Get everyone involved in this policy from the start, because it will then be self policed.
Think about what is sensitive and what is not, is swearing acceptable, how rude can you be, are there topics you don’t go near, can you mention things about your fellow employees, do you keep it on-topic all the time, can you talk about random non related items, etc.
Every company will be different, so get together for a brain storm, but don’t be so strict that people are worried about what they can write, it can stifle creativity.
Some general tips for better blogging
1. Let people know who’s talking – if you have a number of bloggers contributing, add a photo for each of them. This helps when you’re building up a following for each writer, and you get more conversation if people know they’re talking to Paul from Kwikfit rather than adding a comment on the faceless company blog.
2. Let people subscribe by email – a lot of people still haven’t ‘got’ the whole RSS movement, so give people an option about how they consume your information.
3. When mentioning a product/service you offer, link to it.
4. When cross referencing from your blog to your website, deep link to the specific page related to your conversation (not necessarily the home page of your website). This helps the user, as you are taking them to the item you mentioned rather than making them search around for it. But it also helps your deeper pages get indexed well.
5. Use your blogroll for links to useful, interesting, related blogs. This helps your users, but it also increases the chances these bloggers will link back to you.
6. Read your industry magazines and comment on the print articles as well as online articles.
7. Don’t go for the full on ‘sell, sell, sell’ message, make sure your content is useful/interesting/funny/informative.
8. Choose your title wisely – make it compelling & give some thought to the words that people will search for naturally.
9. Try to keep a regular schedule, if you don’t post for a month, you may lose your readers.
10. Add an image or video to keep it interesting.
11. Keep your sentences & paragraphs to reasonable length, not too long.
12. Leave breathing space – i.e. add paragraph breaks, and sub titles to break up your text and make it easy for the user to scan.
13. Use keywords or phrases in your content. Keep in mind what people might search for, related to the article you’re writing and the services you offer. You must ensure you write predominantly for people, but with search engines in mind.
14. Encourage comments. This can be a great way to find out what your audience thinks, how you can improve, and what you excel at. Very helpful for your next marketing campaign. You may want to moderate this to avoid spam, gossip or expletives. But be open enough to allow negative comments.
15. Reply politely and promptly to your comments. Encourage further discussion.
16. Be as open and honest as you can. Waxing lyrical about this amazing product you found, when you actually market that product, is not a good idea. It’s called astroturfing, and if you get found out, it can be very embarrassing. It’s much better to admit you’re involved, but you love the features of this new product anyway. Conversely, if you’ve had a disaster, be prepared to answer critical comments.
17. Check your spelling and grammar.
18. Talk about new news, keep your articles up to date.
19. Make sure your blog is good looking and easy to use. You have to convince someone to stay within the first second they visit the site. Keep in mind your brand.
20. Avoid making defamatory comments; the author may be sued personally.
21. Remember that once published, it may be on the Internet forever. Would you be happy for your parents/children to read it?
22. Research your facts carefully.
23. Give the pro’s and cons for your arguments, not just one side of the story.
Get involved in the blogging conversation
Make sure you read other blogs in the same topic area. They can give you ideas on format, frequency and content, and you can quote, compare and contract their opinions. Often if you talk about someone, they will start to follow you and sometimes even link to you.
Whatever you do, make sure you don’t plagiarise. It’s very easy to find out who’s copied your work on the Internet. So by all means, quote your competitor, but give them the credit, and if you’re feeling generous give them a link.
Keep an eye on what people are saying about you, and your company. Other bloggers may have loved your article and mentioned it on their blog. Make sure you acknowledge this – either on your blog, their blog or both. And if someone doesn’t like what you do, you can tackle that too.
Tracking this is easier than it sounds – if you’re using WordPress, it will track any links pointing to your blog so you can see what people have said about you. And you can set up an alert using Google Alerts for any online mentions of your name, brand, clients, or any competitors you want to stalk.