What the blog?! Why you need a blog and anyone can do it

Blogs are one of the most under-utilised and misunderstood marketing tools a business can lay its hands on. Anyone can start a business blog and the best news is that it can be done for free.
For nothing more than a little planning and your own time, you can create a business blog that drives all of your online marketing efforts and boosts your traditional promotions and advertising.
Now before I go on, we need to dispel some myths and mis-conceptions you may have about blogs.
To have a successful blog you do not need to:
  • be a tech-head or computer wizard
  • be a great writer
  • be a celebrity
  • spend hours a day typing away at your computer in your PJs/trackie dacks – though that is completely optional. 

You do need to have enthusiasm and a commitment to blogging on a regular basis, such as once a week or fortnight. The rest is relatively easy. Just follow my blogging guide below.
What is a blog?
A blog or weblog is a simple way to get your viewpoint into the market and bring together online and social media marketing efforts. Your blog should form the basis or primary source of all of your social media activities. 
You should use Facebook, Twitter and other social media to drive traffic back to your blog and website. 
How does it work?
The blogger writes about a topic and uploads it to the internet on a blogging platform, such as WordPress or Blogger.
People interested in the blog, can go to the blog’s web address by typing the url address into their browser, just like visiting a website. Users can then read the blog, as and when they choose.
Most blogs also have built-in tools and plug-ins, which allow your audience to subscribe to blog updates via email or RSS (Really Simple Syndication) feeds. This means, whenever you update your blog, your subscribers will receive notification.
Don’t worry about the technological components of this, as the tools are usually built into your blogging platform’s templates as ‘options’. FAQs and instructions are also usually available on your blogging platform.
Users can also share your content on various social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn via buttons or ‘plug-ins’ usually built into the template.
Additionally you can allow users to engage and comment on your content (if you enable comments on your blog).
Some people may not like the idea of letting strangers make comments on their content, so you can use various moderation options available on blogging platforms. This can allow you to moderate or check comments in a range of circumstances and check for offensive language. You can also restrict comments to ‘members only’ if you wish.
You may choose not to allow comments at all. This option is not recommended as the aim of a blog is for people to engage with you. If they can’t comment, they can’t engage. Additionally, regular comments also contributes to optimising your blogs for search engine optimisation (SEO).
Also keep in mind that if your moderation is too rigorous that users may be put-off from engaging. For example it is reasonable to moderate comments added to a post after 14 days (it is harder to for you to manually monitor comments made to old posts). You can choose this as an option in your platform. You may also be able to moderate a users first post only, to demonstrate the first time they are not a trouble maker. You can even have an automated message that explains this in a polite way.
  
The benefits of blogs
+      Search engine optimisation – blogs rank high in search engine results especially if they are regularly updated and have comments on them. In most instances, blogs will rank much, much higher than corporate websites. The more traffic on your blog, the more leads you get. The more posts, the more your overall site traffic increases.
+      You can provide important background information and context in a blog, which you couldn’t provide in a tweet or on Facebook
+      You have the space to provide better and more valuable content to your readers
+      It uses simple software which is often free (WordPress or Blogger are two examples) ­– anyone can have a professional looking blog up and running in minutes
+      You can position yourself as an expert by providing insights about your field of expertise or industry
+      You can build trust by providing valuable, consistent and authentic content
+      You can voice your opinion about key industry issues (in a controlled manner)
+      You can gain insights from your customers and test new ideas/products.
But I’m not a writer
You do not have to be a great writer to have a successful blog. The most successful bloggers write in a conversational style that resonates with their audience. 
What do I write about?
First of all, write about what you know. Write about things you are passionate about. Also consider what your point of difference is to other blogs out there.
Once you decide on your overarching theme, stick to it.
Ideas for blog posts can come from anywhere, but her are a couple of ideas.
+      Create post with lists eg. “Top 10 tips for a Successful Blog” or “25 Tips to Increase Traffic to Your Blog.”
+      Interview Bloggers or an expert in your niche. Post the Q&As on your blog or even better – upload the audio interview – this helps with web traffic and don’t forget to include a photo
+      Ask a colleague, staff member or another expert to ‘guest write’ one of your blogs
+      You can also use HitTail to help automate the process and come up with ideas that will help you gain additional organic traffic. They will give you recommendations for topics based on your existing search traffic and their algorithm to identify the best opportunities.
Also apply the same approach that you use for developing content for your other social media sites.
What platform do I use?
There are a lot of free/or mostly free platforms available with ready-made templates.
The most popular platform by far is WordPress. Google’s Blogger platform is also popular. Most have easy tutorials, and offer custom domains. Your website provider may also have a blogging facility built into its website templates.
Frequency
You should aim to publish on your blog about once a week (this could increase to two a week or decrease to once a fortnight depending on how you are inclined). There is no need to post daily unless you really want to and people are engaging with your blogs on a daily basis.
Key tips
+      Ensure your blog and posts clearly link back to your website, especially if your blog is hosted separately from your website. You should also link from your website to your blog.
+      Use images/video/audio as it gives the user something to pin to or share and it ranks higher in SEO. Also tag or name your image with keywords that may also come up on search engine results.
+      Submit your blog to search engines (see more below)
+      Submit your blog posts to social bookmarking sites like StumbleUpon and Reddit and blog community sites. Bizsugar is one of the top free Blogging Communities. Check out the community though before you submit to it. You only want to be associated with credible or reputable sites.
+      Comment and interact – respond to comments left on your blog (appropriately) and leave your own comments on other reputable blogs (where you can add value), leaving a backlink/URL linking back to your own blog. You should then acknowledge and/or respond to valuable comments on your own blog, in order to engage conversation. Even better, you may sometimes pose a question to your readers to engage them.
+      Don’t comment for comment sake – only comment on other sites when you can add a comment of value.
+      Follow other influential blogs – the blogging community is all about helping each other out and supporting each other as everyone will win out.
+      Set up an RSS Feed such as Feedburner so users are easily aware of new content (it is usually built in to the template)
+      Use keywords in your content. However the keywords must be relevant otherwise Google will penalise you for keyword stuffing, use Google Trends to identify popular keywords being searched.
+      Create labels for your keywords so users can search your blog for related topics.
+      Promote your blog – on your web, in conversations, on other social media, on business cards and other promotional material, in email signatures, at networking events, to journalists, to other bloggers, to friends and family
+      Ensure spelling and grammar is correct
+      Make sure there are no broken links in your content or in comments. Especially in older posts, regularly check it for links which no longer work or lead back to questionable sites. You will be penalised by Google otherwise. You can clean up broken links using CommentLuv Link Cleaner.
+      You can setup Google+ Authorship distinguish and validate your content in search results.
+      Embrace guest bloggers – partners, experts, employees are always great sources to ask to submit blogs for you. You should review the content though before you publish it.
+      Do not take criticism personally. You will receive opinions, or feedback, and if somebody is nasty, there are options to block users or blacklist them. Take on board constructive criticism and respond to it swiftly and appropriately, and ignore the troublemakers.
+      Stay on topic – once you have chosen a key theme for your blog post or for the whole blog, try and stick to that theme.
+      Use internal links – link to previous relevant posts especially if they were popular ones.
+      Use simple easy-to-navigate layout – avoid Flash or unnecessary coding on a page, ensure the loading time for images and pages is not too long by making the template simple and compressing the images.
+      Use Google Analytics to track the visits to your blog. Most platforms also have statistics built into the platform dashboard for you to track.
+      Be patient and persevere because the time you invest will eventually pay off. If you build it (and provide valuable content and promote it) they will come!
Submitting Your Blog to Search Engines
You should submit your blog to search engines including Google, MSN/Bing and Yahoo.
Otherwise search engines may not recognise your blog. All you need to do in this case is to submit the URL of your blog to them just to notify them of your newly created blog.

Comment SPAM­

Occasionally you may receive a notification that someone has commented on one of your posts. The post may not appear to make any sense grammatically and is unrelated to your blog’s content. It is annoying and can lead to your blog being penalised by Google.
It usually involves links to another website. This is an out-dated and automated tactic used by marketers to try and improve website ranking in search engines. While search engines are onto this, the practise is still used as it is relatively simple to post comments enmasse to many blogs at the same time.
You can avoid these SPAM comments in the following ways:
+      disable commenting on your blog all together (generally not recommended)
+      moderate and delete comments as they appear (this would need to be done regularly and can be time consuming depending on the number of comments). You could also moderate first time commenters and after that allow them to post un-moderated.
+      A third-party spam filter such as Askimet or Defensio, which examines comments and either holds them for moderation or deletes them. It may not stop all spam.
+      A spam blockersuch as Bad Behavior which stops the comments from reaching your blog and can even prevent them from finding your website in the first instance. It may however indiscriminately discard legitimate comments along the way.
+      CAPTCHAs(Completely Automated Public Turing test to tell Computers and Humans Apart) use challenge-response tests to ensure comments are coming from a person and not a computer. This may ask the commenter to re-type some text, symbols or answer a question. Some blog platforms have this facility built-in.
+      Nofollow Comment Links mean spammers will gain no search engine result benefit.WordPress and most other blogging platforms do this by default or is offered as an option.
+      Blacklist and block troublesome spammers by their names, email addresses, URLs, or even their IP addresses. Your blogging platform eg WordPress should have some advice on how to do this 
+      Disable comments on older posts. Older posts are often targeted by spam as they are less moderated. Many blogging platforms allow you to delete comments on posts after a set time period.
If you do start a blog, don’t be disheartened if it takes time to build a following or for people to engage with your blog. Remember Keep Calm and Blog On and most of all ‘have fun’.
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