More and more small businesses are starting blogs on the Web, and it’s a positive development, if done correctly.
One of the benefits is the chance for business owners to hold a conversation with potential clients, and with people who may be interested the services, or goods that the company offers as well as with people who may share similar interests. Another benefit is the opportunity to attract search engine traffic and links to your site. A third is the chance to build a positive reputation on the web.
Those reasons may sound good in theory, but do they work in practice?
One of the first sites that I added a blog to was for a client in a very small professional services organization. In the years that it has been operating, the blog has had a very positive impact upon his business:
- Having drawn repeated mentions in local newspapers and magazines
- Being profiled in national publications like USA Today
- Appearing as an example in a book on blogging as a way of enhancing a professional reputation
- Attracting business from local customers as well as national and international clients
- Providing rankings in search engines for a wide variety of keyword phrases ahead of firms with more than 300 members
- Engaging other practitioners in the same field to discuss and enter into consultation on a variety of topics
- Suggesting other services that he might provide to his clients
Over those years, we’ve had many conversations about different aspects of blogging, and how to go about it. In the early days, we weren’t sure exactly where to go with the blog, and what to say. But we agreed that it should be a conversation with each reader who comes and visits, to give them a glimpse of the workings of the organization, to share news that we found interesting, to comment on the local community, and to show the human side of what he does.
One of our first conversations about blogging was to develop a set of topics to blog about, and to write those down. In time, that became an idea clearing house – a sort of blog behind the blog, where topics and ideas were shared on things to blog about. We eventually turned to an internal wiki where we could share with each other links to stories or blog posts, or a sentence or paragraph on a subject that we thought readers might find interesting. We noticed, as we went forward, that some of our interests, and the topics of things that we blogged about changed over time, and we welcomed those changes.
Another early conversation was on topics that should be avoided. These included internal company secrets, confidential materials, and information from outside parties that have been disclosed during the course of business. We agreed that if we were going to write about a specific topic that was controversial, that we would try to present sides of the controversy that we may personally disagree with, so that each reader could form their own opinions. We also tried to find and provide more than one source of information on subjects if possible, to show that we were responsible with our research.
We decided when beginning the blog that we would enable comments and try to be as responsive as possible to people who might leave a remark on a post. The interactions that developed lead in time to relationships with other bloggers in the same and related industries, and to long term friendships with people who were interested in the subject matter of the blog.
I’ve seen many blogs from businesses that don’t include blogrolls, and I think that may be a mistake. In the earliest incarnation of this business blog, we included a list of reference resources that we thought would appeal to the readers that we thought we could attract to the blog, and a handful of blogs that we had been following that we found interesting and helped us in the decision to start blogging in the beginning. When we found other blogs that we thought were interesting and might interest the readers of the blog, we took a number of steps. We read through their archives, left some comments, and even blogged about their posts. In other words, we courted them, to see if there might be the possibility of a positive relationship. If we felt like we could trust our visitors to their blogs, we added them to the blogroll.
An early challenge that we faced was that many of the topics that we wanted to discuss on the blog were often written about by others in complex language and jargon particular to the industry. Sometimes those words seemed to be the best ones to use because their meanings were precise and easily understandable by practitioners. But the audience that we wanted to reach included many people who would be unfamiliar with what those words meant. I suggested that a good tone of voice to use might be the one where a client was first introduced to what the business provided, and explained in simple layman’s terms. A benefit of this approach was that those words and phrases happened to be the ones that those audience members would often use to search with when trying to find a service like the one this business offered.
The business grew larger over time, and other voices appeared on the blog. The idea bank that we developed enabled us to share the responsibility of deciding about who blogged on which topic, and to provide input on prospective posts before they were made. We developed a competition, so that people could take turns in blogging, and try to outdo each other with what they posted. Our conversations about what topics to cover and what topics to avoid took shape into a rough set of guidelines, so that everyone was on the same wavelength when it came time to decide what to post, and how to present topics.
Comments and emails from customers were considered carefully in replying to people who took the time to share their thoughts, and sometimes those turned into posts, too. They also provided ideas for growth of the business.
As I noted above, we found that some of the things that we originally were interested in changed over time. Interestingly, some of the services that the business offered changed over time with them. We found that by following news and opinions in the industry closely with the blog, we were educating ourselves on where the industry was headed, what potential and present clients were concerned about, and what trends were developing.
By engaging people in a conversation through a blog and listening to them, we were better able to meet their needs.
Bill Slawski is Director of Search Marketing at KeyRelevance, Inc., blogs at SEO by the Sea, and has been one of the Business and Marketing Forum moderators at Cre8asite Forums for the last five years. The Small Is Beautiful column appears on Thursdays at Search Engine Land.
Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.