Over Thanksgiving I sat down with a guy looking to create a blog to build his consulting business. On the flight back from Colorado I put together some suggestions on how his team could get a blog started and generating results over the next two months.
In putting this together, I thought there might be some value for other business folks looking to dip their feet in the blogging waters. First, it should be said that my blog is not one to follow for inspiration – it is what Seth Godin calls a “cat blog” – a place first and foremost to get thoughts out, not generate business. I break a lot of my own rules here, but that’s okay – as long as you know what you’re building your blog to do you’ll make out fine.
I believe that it’s possible to get a successful blog going within two months in about 5 hours a week, tops. These suggestions aren’t comprehensive – you might find things you agree with, things you disagree with, things I left out. Feel free to add or change anything you like – hopefully you find it valuable in some way.
Why You Need a Blog
For the uninitiated, a blog has a number of advantages over a traditional website for someone looking to cultivate a personal brand. These include:
- Improved search engine ranking. Because blogs are content heavy, usually keyword rich by nature, frequently updated, and categorized and tagged with even more keywords, search engines have a tendency to love blogs.
- Community building features. Blogs allow for people to leave comments, providing for dialogue between you and your readers. They also automatically track other bloggers who link to your posts, further improving search engine performance (since links to your site weigh heavily in search engine algorithms) and allowing you to see what others think of your ideas.
- Can be managed and scheduled with a minimum of effort. Unlike articles which are expected to be carefully thought out and perfectly polished, blog posts are often short, pithy observations. They are also very frequently reactions or observations on what other folks are doing (the short post linking to another personâ€™s blog is one of the most popular types of posts.) This means you can quickly write a series of blog posts in a very brief period of time. Since you can schedule posts in advance, you can spend an hour or two reading other blogs and put together well over a dozen interesting, timely posts, scheduled to go out over a week or more.
- Allows people to get to know your personality. A big reason why people buy from someone is because they like them. While rapport building is easy to accomplish with networking, sales and other face-to-face channels, online rapport building isnâ€™t as easy. Blogs are perfect for this, because they encourage you to write with personality. They also allow you to sometimes venture off topic into other interests (see 37Signals and their love for cars, or Tom Peters focus on meditation and organic nutrition.) People feel like they know you, respect you, understand you.
- You can â€œpushâ€ your material out to your readers. As you blog over time, youâ€™ll establish a group of fans who subscribe to your blog, either by signing up for an email newsletter or by adding your blog to their list of RSS feeds. This means that you donâ€™t have to hope people will remember your site and return, because your site will automatically let them know when you have something new to say.
- Opportunities for partnership and monetization. Once you have an audience that is sizable, you can do different things to extract revenue. You can serve up ads on your site (common and easy to do, but not extremely profitable.) You can take content youâ€™ve written in previous blog posts, combine it and turn it into a PDF booklet. You can offer your list of email subscribers or RSS readers a discount on seminars, books, etc. And you can publicize speaking events, book releases and other marketing efforts to your audience (probably your most likely customers.) Finally, you can create partnership arrangements with other experts who have similar audiences and discuss complementary topics. These folks can â€˜guest authorâ€™ on your blog for a month or more (and vise versa) giving you both opportunities to instantly reach new, interested people.
For all these reasons, a blog can and should serve as the centerpiece for your online marketing efforts. Below is a suggested implementation schedule for getting your blog off the ground.
- Get a blog installed on your site. You can use a variety of free software packages (I would suggest Movable Type or WordPress.)
- Identify 30-40 other blogs that youâ€™d like to use as inspiration. Look for blogs that have the following characteristics:
- high pagerank (you can find this out by going to Alexa and typing in the URL)
- a high comment count, or an indicator of the number of feed subscribers (i.e. lots of other people reading them â€“ an example of a feed indicator is on the sidebar of 37Signals)
- similar subject matter (target audience)
- regularly updated (lots of opportunities for inspiration for your material, and plenty of opportunities to have lots of people see your comments.)
- Get Google Analytics installed on your site. Just a quick copy and paste onto your templates, and in a few days you’ll have the most robust statistical reporting available.
- Create an account at Technorati and add your blog to their list. Once you do this, you can have your new blog notify the service when you have new posts.
- Create accounts at Digg, Netscape, Newsvine, and Reddit. These sites are what are called â€œsocial bookmarkingâ€ â€“ people put links to articles, blog posts and other content on them and other people â€˜voteâ€™ on the link if they think itâ€™s interesting. If youâ€™re able to get a post voted on by a lot of people, you can get an enormous amount of attention very quickly.
- Once your blog is set up, take old articles you may have written for other channels and add them to the blog. This will get your blog up with some good material right away.
- Sign up with Feedburner, the easiest to use and most popular feed service. Youâ€™ll need to add a few lines of code to your blog to make this work, but once itâ€™s up it will allow people to sign up for your feed and give you statistics on your subscribers.
- Spend an hour or two going through the blogs you added to your feedreader during week one. Look for posts that you think are interesting.
- For each one of those posts you find interesting, leave a comment. Add the link to your bookmarks (either with del.icio.us or your web browser, whichever method you set up last week) so you have easy access to it.
- Spend an hour or two, or however long it takes, writing posts with your observations and thoughts on the posts you found. They donâ€™t have to be long â€“ a couple of paragraphs is usually fine. If you donâ€™t have anything really interesting or valuable to say but you still think your readers would benefit from it, just write something like â€œTom Peters wrote an interesting post today about Xâ€ and link to it.
- Schedule these posts to go out over the next week. Donâ€™t worry if you have multiple posts in the same day â€“ this is fine (a good thing, even.) Perhaps give some thought to how to schedule them (alternating short posts and long ones, or rotating through subjects vs. stringing multiple posts together about the same topic of discussion.)
- If you wrote a post that you think adds value (i.e. isnâ€™t just a link or regurgitation of someone elseâ€™s post,) add the post to digg, newsvine, netscape and reddit.
- Think about what worked and what didnâ€™t, and come up with some ideas for improvement next week.
- Repeat steps 5-10 from above.
- Go through the same steps 5-10.
- Pick some low-hanging fruit. Consider sending an email out to a group of people you know (perhaps including your house email list if you have one) letting them know about your blog. Ask them to take a minute to check it out, perhaps leave some comments on the posts, and (ideally) send a link along to a few colleagues.
- Same steps as usual.
- By now you should have a few dozen posts, and hopefully some readers from your comments left on other blogs, initial search engine traffic, your colleagues from week three, etc. Take some time to look at your statistics on Feedburner and on your Google web stats. Look at keywords people are using to find you via search engines, look at the posts that appear to be the most popular, look at where people have come to your site from other blogs, etc. This will allow you to make educated guesses about the kinds of content people are interested in, on blogs that have proven effective in generating traffic in the past, etc.
- Sign up for Squidoo. This is Seth Godinâ€™s new company that allows anyone to create a website. Whatâ€™s interesting about it is that since his pages (he calls them â€œlensesâ€) are all interconnected and link to each other, Squidoo lenses get very high placement in search engine rankings. Write a lens (or a couple) about the topics you want to be known for. Include links to blog posts youâ€™ve written, links to relevant books on Amazon, etc. You can build a very solid lens in less than an hour, and if you make it useful it can get voted up. At the very least, it should eventually give you another page that links to your site. Search engines look at incoming links and the popularity of the pages that are linking to you â€“ since Squidoo is already ranked in one of the 1000 most popular sites, this will boost your search engine ranking as well.
- The usual steps
- Begin thinking about adding â€˜themeâ€™ for some days of your blog. You could have a day where you answer reader questions (if you get them,) or have a weekly post where you copy and paste the most interesting comments from the previous week (linking to their sites to give them publicity â€“ good karma.) You could also have a weekly post that is completely irrelevant or mildly relevant to your expertise, just linking to a bunch of articles you found interesting online.
- Consider experimenting with video. If you have a camera, you can sign up for YouTube and post videos online for free. These videos are taggable, votable and commentable (the same things that make blogs so compelling.) Theyâ€™re also extremely easy to add to your site â€“ you just copy and paste a snippet of code they give you into your blog post. Even better, OTHER people can and often do the same thing, giving you even more exposure. If you have any speeches coming up, this is an easy way to create some new interesting material (maybe take your presentation and create 5-10 short two minute snippets.) Other options include asking people at your presentation their thoughts on your speech (testimonials from real people, with faces.) Or maybe a series of interviews with clients of yours (publicity for them, value added for other people, etc.)
- If you haven’t already done so, push out to your house list an announcement about the blog. Encourage them to visit, give them a link to a feed service so they can subscribe to your feed, maybe even encourage them to digg some of your recent posts. If you’re really lucky, you could even get them to create their own lens discussing your philosophies.
- Take a step back, relax, and appreciate all you’ve managed to accomplish in 6 weeks.
This should get you started on the process of building a business blog and jumping into the world of online marketing. Again, would love to hear your feedback, comments, etc. If you have clients who are similarly considering taking the plunge, feel free to forward this to them as well.