Millions of small-to-medium-sized companies looking to grow their businesses have established and maintained a presence on the World Wide Web. Setting up a website is a fast and relatively inexpensive way for potential or existing customers to read about or obtain your company's products or services.
But how you choose to publish news, events or other information can be handled in various ways. You can hire a public relations agency to write traditional press releases, although that can prove costly. You can send newsletters or e-mail to a database of customers, although that can be time consuming and sometimes getting caught by spam filters. Or, you can consider a newer option favored by a growing number of entrepreneurs trying to drum up business: you can write a blog.
Short for 'Web log,' a blog (pronounced 'blaw-g'), is a cost effective online journal that could provide relevant info for your visitors and be linked to other areas of your business website (or elsewhere in cyberspace). Blogs may contain photos, audio clips or videos, and, for the mobile business owner, they can be updated virtually anywhere there's an Internet connection.
Catherine Jamieson, author of Create Your Own Photo Blog, says that small-to-medium-sized business should consider starting a blog as part of their online strategy because of the accessibility it can provide to a business.
'In the simplest terms, a blog represents the opportunity to reach a global audience.' or, just as importantly, reach your local audience any time, day or night' Jamieson says. 'Whether it's to find out what the latest product offerings are or where to send an e-mail of complaint to the service department, the modern customer likes to feel connected to the people with whom he does business and to the businesses where he spends his money.'
While writing a blog is basically no different than writing a flyer or a mailed pamphlet, it tends to be cheaper and has a higher success rate, says Jamieson.
When creating a blog for your company, Jamieson suggested a number of Do's and Don'ts in order to maximize its impact.
- Create a blog for your business.
- Research other blogs in your field and make a list of what you do and don't like.
- Create good, solid RSS feeds for newsreader syndication.
- Ensure that your design works on -- at least -- Microsoft Internet Explorer and Firefox for Windows and Macs.
- Tell the customer about what products and services you offer along with pricing guidelines.
- Have a professional create or help you with your layout -- it's usually a small price and will ensure that you have a standards compliant site which is accessible to the most people.
- Get an easy to remember and related URL/site name.
- Clutter your blog up with a lot of ads and other diversions -- people mostly want to see what they came to see. Make sure they can see it easily.
- Use animations or anything which requires the user to install a plug-in.
- Use a black background -- it's almost always wrong for a business site.
- Make the creation of revenue with "Ads by Google' (or alike services) more important than the blog itself. If you are going to try and add revenue with click-throughs, do so in a way that it does not interfere with the delivery or content of your blog.
While many businesses will likely choose to host the blog on their corporate site, those just starting out or on a very strict budget might consider the dozens of free blogging tools and websites to host your blog.
Blog Tools for Your Business
Windows Live Spaces (formerly MSN Spaces) is the most widely used blogging service worldwide, with more than 120 million unique users, according to comScore Networks. Windows Live Spaces offers numerous ways to customize your Web presence with up to 500 photo uploads allowed per month (for others to view, comment on or print); more than 100 different themes; and customizable 'Gadgets,' such as weather reports, stock tickers, and more.
Google's Blogger was founded in 1999 as a small company in San Francisco, but was bought by Google in 2002. The site steps you through the process of posting your opinions, soliciting feedback from readers, linking to other bloggers, posting photos, and communicating from mobile platforms.
Yahoo 360 is yet another free blogging service that can help you set up a business blog, taking you through the process to create content, share music playlists, link to other blogs, and post photos.