Over the last decade, business blogs have gone from being a novelty to a leading-edge practice to an essential element for any company seeking to optimize its presence on the web. According to Small Business Trends and HubSpot, the percentage of businesses with blogs has increased from less than half in 2009 to nearly two out of three in 2011.
Why are so many companies now embracing blogging? In addition to the traditional benefits of business blogging, recent changes in the way search engines rank content have made blogging crucial for obtaining and maintaining high search engine visibility.
Three ranking factors that have recently taken on increased importance from Google (and will therefore likely soon become important to other search engines as well) are content quality and authority, social media links and content freshness. A blog helps on all three fronts much more than a standard corporate website. Google is also placing increased weight on link quality and diversity; thoughtful, helpful blog posts are more likely to attract such links than typical vendor product and service content.
Once your organization makes the decision to start a blog—or to re-launch one that’s been neglected or has underperformed—here are eight key factors to consider.
1. Location. Will the blog be part of your corporate site or have its own unique URL? The more common practice today is to treat the blog as a section of the website, often with a URL like company.com/blog. The primary advantage of this approach is that all of the SEO value of external links accrues to the corporate site, giving it more authority in the eyes of the search engines.
An alternative approach is to treat the blog as a separate entity with a meaningful URL. For example, if Acme Widgets wants to rank for the very competitive phrase “widget management software,” and their corporate site is at acmewidgets.com, they may want to use the URL widgetmanagementsoftware.com for the blog. This option is worth considering in product categories that are highly competitive in search. It also provides the opportunity to give the blog a distinct and less “corporate” personality of its own, as well as potentially providing the company with an extra spot on the first page of search results.
2. Author(s). The internet is littered with a hundred million abandoned blogs, for two primary reasons: first, it’s a fair amount of work to research and write quality content on a regular basis. And second, there is no instant gratification—it takes time to build an audience and authority with the search engines. Assigning multiple writers (i.e., creating a group blog) can help spread the load and allow for more frequent posting, a variety of styles, and broader topic coverage. Just make sure all of the authors have what it takes to be successful business bloggers: writing skills (of course), but also originality, subject matter expertise, a point of view, and most importantly—persistence.
3. Tone. Sassy? Intellectual? Helpful? Informative? Sophisticated? Technical? While a blog is likely to contain a mix of attributes (particularly a multi-author blog), think about the overall tone and personality your blog should have. Unlike website copy (which tends to be feature/benefit, marketing oriented), a blog can project a distinct and less directly sales-y side of your organization.
4. Design. Some corporate blogs (particularly those integrated into the company website) simply match the look and feel of the corporate website as closely as possible. But while a company blog should carry over certain key branding elements (e.g., colors, logo), it can also have some distinctiveness to its look, reflecting the tone (above) and setting it apart from the “commercial” content of the corporate site.
5. Platform. Just kidding, this really isn’t a tough decision: use WordPress. Sure, there are alternatives, ranging from other free or low-cost platforms (e.g., Blogger, TypePad) to fee-based systems (e.g., Compendium, HubSpot) to tools built into web content management system (CMS) platforms, but it’s tough to find an alternative that can compete with the flexibility, affordability, capability and search engine-friendliness of WordPress.
6. Structure (topics). Though these will likely evolve over time, it’s best to think about at least the obvious subjects for your company and industry up front. First, doing so will help keep subsequent posts organized into logical groups, without “category proliferation” (an excessive number of categories) or multiple overlapping topic areas.
Second, properly naming the categories is critical both for human navigation and for search engine optimization; a mis-named category (e.g., one that uses internal company jargon rather than the language of your prospects and customers) won’t attract as many readers as a better-named category would, and won’t help your blog rank as well for popular industry search terms.
Determining a set of baseline categories up front also helps in developing an editorial calendar. While this may be too formal for a single-contributor or small company blog, it can be very helpful for assuring topic diversity and a steady stream of content.
7. Post frequency. As Heidi Cohen points out, there is no hard and fast rule as to how often a blog needs fresh content, but the best strategy is to “blog as often as you can create quality content.” In terms of a blog’s impact on customer acquisition, posting once per week is nearly 50% more effective than posting only once per month, and more than twice as effective as posting even less frequently. But posting 2-3 times per week yields only a small incremental gain, and posting daily provides an even smaller incremental improvement.
Again, having multiple authors (see factor #2 above) can help increase post frequency without placing an excessive burden on any one contributor. Five authors, each writing two posts per month, would result in 2-3 posts per week—a highly effective frequency for customer acquisition. Spreading the burden should also (at least theoretically) improve the depth and quality of each post as well.
8. Features. Any blogging platform should provide the capability to add common features to your blog like a subscribe-by-email option, buttons/links to your social media accounts, and social sharing buttons to make it easy for your readers to share your posts on social networks and social bookmarking sites (though few platforms offer as many options for “pimping out” a blog as WordPress—see factor #5 above).
WordPress plugins let you add a wide variety of more advanced functions to your blog such as incorporating feeds from social media sites, enable your readers to rate posts, build customized contact forms, automatically display contextually related posts, add an online directory to your blog, display your most popular posts, insert a customized greeting based on the site that referred the reader to your blog (e.g., Digg, Facebook, LinkedIn), even create an e-commerce store.
By addressing each of these factors in your blog planning and setup, you’ll be ready to launch (or re-launch) a business blog built for success.