How and Why to Start a Business Blog
At its most fundamental level, a blog (which comes from “web log”) is just a simple website in the form of an online diary with articles typically arranged by post date, although the specific format varies depending on your own requirements.
Blogs are used by countless millions of people but are also very useful, perhaps even critical, for any business that wants to keep their customers, or anyone else who may be interested, up to date with the latest company or product news.
For a business, one of the most common uses of a blog these days is as a platform for content marketing. In other words a business blog is used to publish articles which help attract new leads and build awareness about a product or company, as well as further engage with existing users.
A blog can act as an additional channel where customers can interact with the company and so is useful for customer support and feedback purposes.
In many cases an entire business can in fact be built around a blog platform, using suitable modifications.
Self-hosted or Managed?
When setting up a blog, one of the first things you need to decide is whether to install, host and manage it all in-house or to use one of the blog service providers such as wordpress.com to manage the technical side, albeit with significant limitations, both technical and commercial. If you’re not technical and don’t want to deal with that side of things then a managed blog service is the way to go – just fill in a form and your blog will be setup for you, ready to start adding content.
Some of the best known managed blog providers include WordPress (.com), Typepad, Blogger (Google) and Livejournal. There are however many other lesser known blog hosts, some of which may actually be more popular in certain parts of the world.
However, choosing the self-hosted option is often the best path to take for many reasons such as control, security and flexibility which allows you to do whatever you need with your blog. In this case, one of the most common options is WordPress (.org), which you can download and use for free and comes with thousands of plugins and themes. Installation of WordPress is quite simple and they provide their “Famous 5 Minute Install” instructions, so if you’re comfortable with basic web technology, you can be up and running quite soon with this.
A third option is to use a hosting company which provides ‘one click install’ for popular apps such as WordPress – with these, you don’t have to do much on the technical side, as the hosting company has automated the process for you. With this you get the flexibility and control of self-hosted with much of the ease of install provided by managed blogs.
Plugins & Themes
An important feature for any blog software is the availability of themes and plugins.
Themes allow you to instantly switch the entire look of your blog, even including the layout and interface. WordPress has a huge number of themes which you can use for free (often in exchange for a link back to the designer) as well as paid or “premium” themes which may be higher quality and less used than the free themes, although that is not always the case.
For a business it is of course wise to go with a custom blog theme which is designed specifically to meet your requirements and business aims rather than just some generic off-the-shelf theme which may already be used on a thousand other blogs. Needless to say, your business blog theme or design should match the rest of your site.
Plugins are also relatively easy to install addons which extend the functionality of the blog software and there are thousands which can be used for free and add all manner of extra features, however anyone installing a plugin should be careful to ensure they come from reputable sources as a plugin can open your blog, and even your whole server, to malicious hackers and potentially wreak havoc on your business.
Custom blog plugins can mean the difference between a simple and uninspiring blog of which there are many millions, and a rich, dynamic, interactive and fully integrated platform which complements or even entirely drives your business.
Pings & Feeds
Most blogs automatically create RSS or Rich Site Summary feeds (also known as Really Simple Syndication) which can be subscribed to by blog or feed readers or integrated with other web sites, blogs or apps on various platforms. Feeds provide an important and widely used method of pushing your blog or site updates to followers everywhere.
For an example of an RSS feed for a business blog, you can see ours here.
A common method of announcing updates to your blog is by doing a ‘ping‘ which basically just notifies various ping sites or search engines so that they can send their spiders to index your feeds and posts as soon as possible. WordPress, and probably others, will perform this ping for you automatically in the background so you usually never have to think about it, unless you want to customize the list of ping sites.
An extremely common and annoying problem with a blog is spam, particularly comment spam. One of the key features of a blog is the ability for visitors to be able to leave comments on any articles posted. This is great for building a dynamic and engaged community, but it also opens the door for spammers with automated tools which can post millions of comments tailored to the subject of the article and containing links back to their blogs or affiliate programs.
Fortunately there are a number of tools and strategies which can be employed to minimize or even prevent spam on your blog, such as the widely used Akismet plugin.
Maintain & Nurture Your Blog
While having a blog can be a great complement to your business website or can even form the basis for your entire business, there is nothing worse than a blog done wrong. The web is littered with examples of such blogs with terrible design, useless content, infrequent updates and drowning in comment spam, resulting in zero usage at best or even significant damage to your business and reputation.
A blog takes time to build a following, but as long as you keep publishing quality content, build relationships with readers and other bloggers, and share your articles (and good content by others) across the social networks, the benefits can be huge. Not only will you gain traffic from social networks, but also SEO benefits will bring increased traffic from Google and other search engines in the long term.
Your business blog can be integrated with a marketing automation or email marketing system and then almost effortlessly attract and convert leads which further drive the growth and success of your business.
Still haven’t started a blog for your business?? It’s time you got started on that!