One common mistake new bloggers make is not realizing that managing a blog is similar to publishing a magazine. Your blog, to be successful, requires constant planning, research, analysis, and then more planning. You have to keep on top of your topic niche, but this means different things for different people.
For example, if you are blogging about something you do everyday, and are offering “how-to" type of info, then you may not need to do a lot of reading to keep on top of your topic. On the other hand, if you are writing about new products in your industry, unless you are creating these products yourself, you will probably have to do regular research to keep up.
I write several blogs that fall into different categories. For my computer programming blogs, I draw on my experience in a particular computer language and generally do not need to do any research, unless I want to blog about new software and tools. These programming blogs, however, take a great deal of effort, and any code I write has to be tested. The time investment per article is equal to or more than I spend on “research" blogs.
For product-related blogs, I have to do regular, intense research. I use Google Alerts (http://google.com/alerts) to have snippets of web or blog pages delivered to my email on a daily basis. Google Alerts lets you type in a few keywords and your email address, along with a delivery frequency (weekly, daily, as-it-happens). I get updates on several keywords nightly. They're a boon to my research, but if I fall too far behind in checking the alerts, the resulting giant to-read list can get intimidating. (By the way, Yahoo! and MSN have similar services. )
What I do with the alerts is skim over them. If a snippet interests me, I'll click on the link to visit the source web page and read the full story. I try to read several stories on the same topic, then summarize all of them into one short article, add links to the source stories, and add my own spin to the topic, either supporting or refuting what is being said in the stories. Adding your own spin is essential, as it is your opportunity to add your own personality - which is usually more evident in your original blog entries. Anyone can write a summary; make that summary yours.
With blogs that document my experience on a topic, I try to think about what I know now that would have helped me when I was starting out. Someone out there can do with your guidance. Providing this guidance in a blog is an excellent way to build rapport with readers. I feel that anyone can do this, regardless of what type of business you are in. But there are some questions you have to ask yourself, and which you should answer before you start blogging:
- Why are you blogging? Are you essentially trying to sell products and services (either online or offline), or showcasing your experience for some other reason? I blog for several reasons:
- I love to write.
- I can earn advertising money.
- I have a number of e-books that I'm writing, which I eventually hope to promote via some of my blogs.
- I showcase my blogs for small business owners who want to see what a blog for their industry may look like. For example, I have a couple of potential clients who are small- to medium-sized merchants that sell antiques or home decor and fashion. I've set up an example blog for them to view the possibilities.
- I showcase my experience on a topic, in order to gain contracts for website or blog architecting, design, or technical writing.
- Who are you writing for? My blogs are each targeted to different people. Even though several of them are showcases that exist in hopes of getting me contracts, they are written as any magazine on the same topic might be. For example, my antiques/ home decor blog is written for anyone who has an interest in such. In this case, I'm targeted buyers, not dealers. But the way I've set it up, my intent is to attract dealers to eventually write articles. My blog about spinning blogs is aimed at both people who write only one blog and those who write, or want to write, several blogs. I have to achieve a balance in my articles to cater to both types of readers.
- Who is going to write the blog entries? If you are the sole proprietor of the business you are promoting and have no employees, this will have to be you, as no one else knows your business as well as you do. If you have employees, you might have them participate: you sketch out ideas, they finish the articles. Or if your employees don't have sufficient writing skills, you might consider an intern who wants to learn your business.
- Who is responsible for the quality of the content? Someone has to take on the role of editor. Ultimately, as a business owner, you should “own" the content. If the blog is promoting your business, it must maintain credibility, otherwise that will reflect badly on your business. But in reality, someone has to edit the content, especially if you are not the writer or if there are multiple writers. If your business is large enough to have a marketing department, they are the most likely “owners" of the blog. Otherwise, the task of editor may fall to you. Some blogmasters-for-hire will assume the role of editor.
- Who will be the blogmaster? This is a hybrid task, falling partway between marketing and partway between (technical) webmastering. It includes managing the blog, posting of entries, optimizing content for the Search Engines, and analysis of blog traffic. Blogmastering is yet another task you will probably have to add to your own to-do list. However, some bloggers out there will help you manage a blog, typically for a monthly fee, or for a retainer plus a per-post fee. These fees may include promotion as well as analysis of incoming web/ blog traffic. The latter is crucial; geo-targeting is essential to businesses which have geographical differences or limitations. For example, if you run a local business, but are finding that much of your web traffic is coming from another state or even another country, you may want to re-think your blog strategy. (Example below. )
- With what frequency will entries be posted? Typically, it's wise to post entries two or more times a day, at least 5 days a week - although there are “weekly" blogs. Your blog entries do not always have to be large articles, and can often be summaries of other blogs or their articles, a list of resources, a few helpful hints, or relevant tips on saving money. However, every once in a while, you should write a longer article. To place higher in the Search Engines, your entries should be at least 75 words in length, when possible. Note that if your business is purely regional, and is unlikely to interest anyone outside of a certain geographical radius, blogging may not be as effective for you. In that case , you may want to set up a portal blog and invite other business owners from across the country/ continent/ world to participate. The “helpful hints" entries are of interest to all readers, but a region-specific blog entry could link to the writer's own business website. Keep in mind that the synergy gained from multiple points of view has proven itself in terms of web traffic on various blog networks. There is also less onus on a single writer to blog everyday, and the increased number of total daily blog contributions is likely to draw more blog traffic than for several small regionally-based blogs.
These are just a few of the questions you have to answer. I recommend that before you set up your blog, you also write at least 10 entries to get a feel for things. Starting up and maintaining a blog, on top of your daily business commitments, is a lot of work. It's your public face on the Internet - more so than a regular website - and you want to maintain credibility. So plan your blog well.
Raj Kumar Dash is a writer, author, and Internet consultant. Visit his hubsite at http://www.chameleonintegration.com/ to find the full introduction to blogging. (A free ebook on blogging is in the works. ) Newbie bloggers can also visit Raj's BlogSpinner blog at http://blogspinner.countwordula.com/ for a “how-to guide to blogging".