With 100 million blogs now online, you may feel as though the last thing your website or the world needs is another one. But if you don't have a blog, you might want to reconsider. That's because Google (NASDAQ:GOOG), the great arbiter of Web success, has a particular love for blogs. When compiling its vaunted rankings, the search engine appears to favor websites that are updated frequently and are linked to by other webpages. Given these criteria, blogs have an outsize influence on the results. And blogs are more than a way to game Google. A surprising 66 percent of North American consumers trust blogs as a source of product information, according to a 2007 survey by Nielsen.
The trick, say experts and longtime bloggers, is restraint. "For marketers, it's about being more authentic, which is so ironic," says Peter Kim, senior analyst at Forrester Research.
Moreover, blogs can help a company establish a human connection with customers. By being personal and idiosyncratic, they soften the antiseptic feel common to many corporate websites. Blogs can also help you tap into one of the overarching trends in marketing, which is that companies are now striving for an ongoing conversation with customers, rather than one-off, short-lived campaigns.
Setting up a blog is quick and easy. A number of blogging software applications are free, including Google's Blogger and Movable Type. Figuring out what you want your blog to say is more complicated. Don't settle for a company blog that is a simple repository for press releases and other junk. Instead, you should cultivate the image of an expert and even a trusted friend.
Darryl Ohrt, founder of Plaid, a brand consulting firm based in Danbury, Connecticut, started his blog Brandflakesforbreakfast.com in 2005. His motivation was pretty simple: He wanted to eliminate the arduous task of clipping hard copies of articles and mailing them to potential customers. He decided from the outset that he would refrain from making an overt sales pitch on the blog. The approach worked. The blog took off and became a calling card for his firm. Today, it is read by 100,000 people a month.
Besides promoting your company through your own blog, you should also make a concerted effort to reach out to bloggers who are influential in your industry. "In most markets, there are a small number of people who are guiding the conversation," says Paul Gillin, author of The New Influencers: A Marketer's Guide to the New Social Media.
Bob Grewal successfully employed this strategy. Pinder, his Chatsworth, California, company, sells sleeves for laptop computers. Grewal sent a sample bag to Kate Trgovac, a marketing blogger who also has a passion for laptop bags, which she reviews on her site, Mynameiskate.ca. (She also maintains a page on Squidoo.com, a site that makes it easy for people to compile links from different sites on the Web.) After Trgovac wrote about the laptop sleeve on her Squidoo page, Pinder's sales jumped 30 percent.
Not every industry has a blog as influential as Trgovac's, but many do. To figure out which blogs related to your industry are getting the most traffic, go to Technorati and BlogPulse, two sites that rank blogs in terms of their traffic.
No time to blog? Use Tumblr.com to create a "tumblelog" with brief entries and photos.
LEIGH BUCHANAN is an editor at large for Inc. magazine. A former editor at Harvard Business Review and founding editor of WebMaster magazine, she writes regular columns on leadership and workplace culture. @LeighEBuchanan