It's one thing to start a company blog. It's something else entirely to get people to visit.

Driving traffic to your small business' corporate blog takes equal parts old-fashioned marketing and contemporary Web tools. It's a mix of common sense practices like printing a blog's URL on company business cards with search engine optimization and blog software plug-ins to come up with the right formula to motivate people to visit, according to corporate bloggers and blog marketing experts.

Whatever methods you use, aim for quality, not quantity, says Tac Anderson, a Web 2.0 expert and blogger at the LaserJet business unit of HP in Boise, Idaho. Using lots of Web-based bells and whistles can dramatically increase traffic. But if people don't make return visits, or all that traffic doesn't lead to more customers, better bonds with suppliers or other measures of success, it doesn't mean much.

Old school marketing methods

No matter what your company's blog is about or who writes it, start with the basics to spread the word that it's there:

  • Include the blog's name and URL on printed materials such business cards, letterhead and brochures.
  • Include it in employees' email signatures, and prominently display it on the company's website, either on the front page or another suitable location. MobileDataforce, a 45-person Boise, Idaho, maker of software for mobile devices, has a link to a blog written by CEO Kevin Benedict on the front page of the company's website. On a recent trip to Australia, Benedict was walking down the street in Sydney and someone called his name 'because she'd read my blog and recognized my picture,' he says.
  • Encourage whoever writes the blog to network offline to promote it. At HP, Anderson is frequently invited to speak about Web 2.0 and social media at technology conferences, and uses the occasions to talk to people about his blogs. 'Even if they don't meet you personally, if they just hear you speak, they feel a little more connected, and they'll be more likely to become regular readers,' Anderson says.
  • Network online. too. Become a frequent visitor of blogs that cover similar topics or industries. Leave comments on those blogs and e-mail the authors. Include those blogs in the list of blogs, or blogroll, on your own blog. MobileDataforce's software is used on rugged hand-held PCs, so Benedict links his blog to blogs at distributors and manufacturers of that gear. 'You get more eyes, and Google ranks you higher if you have connections with other popular sites,' he explains.

Search engine optimization and other tools

Professional blog marketers suggest using a different bag of tricks to drive traffic to the websites, including:

Search engine optimization (SEO) -- An entire industry has developed around the science of placing frequently searched words and phrases into the text of blog posts so they'll appear high in search-engine rankings and get more traffic as a result. Search engine optimization specialists such as Gary Pool, proprietor of White Rose Productions in Portland, Ore., swears by SEO software such as:

  • Niche Bot, a subscription-based software tool that bloggers use to search for commonly used words or phrases.
  • SEO Book, a regularly updated e-book with a variety of SEO tools.
  • Word Tracker, another SEO tool that offers a free trial version.

Plugins -- Pool prefers to create blogs in WordPress because of the bounty of available plug-in software including:

  • Add Meta Tags, which automatically selects keywords in blog posts that will get picked up by search engines.
  • Share This, software that adds a button to the bottom of every blog post making it easier to subscribe it to a viewer's RSS news reader.
  • XML Sitemaps, software that produces a sitemap of a blog that makes it easier for Google, Yahoo, and MSN to search a blog.

Blog directories -- Pool also suggests that companies submit their blogs to blog directories for specific states, industries, or professions.

If you use SEO keywords to drive traffic, don't dwell on the details to the extent that you forget the big picture. If your blog is so crowded with key words people can't find what they are looking for, you've defeated the purpose of bringing them to the blog in the first place, Pool says. And don't forget to have fun with it. 'If it's personal, people will keep coming back. It doesn't have to be heavy handed,' he says.

In the end, content is still king. Present interesting information visitors want to read, and you never know where it will lead. At MobileDataforce, Benedict had given up ever getting an order from a large New Zealand company that initially expressed interest then stopped returning emails and phone calls. But they didn't stop reading his blog. After six months of silence they called. 'Their employees read my blog every week and they were ready to buy,' Benedict says. The blog 'is an ongoing communication with customers that we don't even know we have.'