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Blog -- It’s a Good Four Letter Word

It's not just for blowing hot air. Blogs can help you build up a following among customers, pitch products and raise your company's profile.
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When I first started writing a blog about small business technology in April 2001, the term blogging wasn't nearly ubiquitous as it is today. The few who knew about bloggers thought that they were all political partisans who used the Internet to smear the other side or, worse yet, someone droning on about the latest antics of their pet turtle.

The idea that you could use a blog as a business tool to build a relationship with customers, market your products or services to them, or keep them informed about your industry was not as accepted as it is today. And, yet, fast-forward a few years and 5,885 blog posts later (that I have written), and that is precisely what some young companies are doing with blogs.

I would guess that many of you still have not started your own blog. Maybe you don’t have the time, maybe you don’t see why you need to or maybe you just don’t know how to create one. I would like to encourage more of you to try business blogging. From my experience, blogging has helped me create a network of businesspeople, keep them informed about new developments and achieve business goals.

Creating a blog is not hard. The hardest part is not the technology that powers the blog, it’s the thinking that goes into creating a blog. Like building a house -- any decent contractor can build a house but only the best can build a great looking home.

A successful blog is more than just a basic website, which you can build once and update a few times a year. For a blog to serve its purpose, it should be regularly updated with fresh content. The reasons for creating your blog will govern the content that’s on it. If your blog is created to let customers know about sales, your customers will expect regular sales notices. If it's created to build a relationship, they will expect a more warm and personal style of writing from you. Either way, the blog is NOT about you. It is about your readers and what they can get from reading your blog.

There are many free and/or low cost services you can use to build a blog. You’ll find all of the services relatively easy to use with simple step by step menu choices. These services include Google's Blogger (which I use), Six Apart's Movable Type. Six Apart's Type Pad, Word Press, and blogging services from AOL, Microsoft,  and Yahoo.

Many of these services are free. Type Pad starts at $5 per month.

Here are a few things to keep in mind when starting your blog:

Domain name

It is important to consider a good name for your blog. One that’s easy to remember and type helps. Consider if you want to use the domain of your blog service provider (myblog.blogger.com) your own domain (myblog.com or mybusiness.com/myblog ).

Hosted or not

All of the blogging services above can host your blog for you. Some of them also provide you with the software (free and fee versions) to host the blog yourself. Hosting the blog yourself means you have to pay someone (if you can’t do it yourself) to setup the blog for you on your Web server (your own or that of your Internet service provider). Using a hosted blog, transfers the headache (and cost) of setup and maintenance of your blog away from you to your blog host.

Some of the services, like blogger.com are simpler to use than others. While others offer more features, hence a bit more complexity.

Link to other blogs

Part of the spirit of blogging is to not only write content related to your own products or services but to liberally link to others in your writing. You also want to add a resource section (or favorite links) to your blog. Doing this does three things:

  1. encourages other bloggers to link to your blog and
  2. helps boost the search engine traffic from your blog.

Grammar and spelling matter

Just because your blog is a ‘blog’ does not mean you throw out the rules of good communication. Those include making sure your blog has correct grammar and spelling. It does not look professional and reduces the effectiveness of your communication if your blog is riddled with mistakes.

See what others are doing

One of the best ways to learn about blogging is to read other blogs. Tehnorati.com is a directory of blogs and you can see who else writes about your type of business. Don’t forget to check out business blogs at established publications, too, for polished writing and topics of general business interest.

When I think of my own blogging experience, I’m always in awe of just how much my blogging alone has helped my own website grow.

Ramon Ray is an author, speaker, technology writer and former small business technology consultant. He publishes Smallbiztechnology.com, a website that helps small and medium-sized businesses strategically use technology as a tool to grow their businesses.

Last updated: Nov 1, 2006

RAMON RAY | Columnist

Editor and technology evangelist at Smallbiztechnology.com, which covers technology trends for small business. His latest book is the Amazon.com best-seller Facebook Guide to Small Business Marketing.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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