WordPress 3 For Business Bloggers

By Paul Thewlis
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  1. A Blog Less Ordinary—What Makes a Great Blog?

About this book

WordPress makes the business of blogging easy. But there’s more to a successful business blog than just churning out posts. You need to understand the advanced marketing and promotion techniques to make your blog stand out from the crowd, attract visitors, benefit your brand, and deliver a worthwhile return on your investment.

WordPress 3 for Business Bloggers shows you how to use WordPress to run your business blog. It covers everything you need to develop a custom look for your blog, use analytics to understand your visitors, market your blog online, and foster connections with other bloggers to increase your traffic and the value of your blog.

You begin by identifying your blog’s strategic goals before going step-by-step through the advanced techniques that will grow your blog to its full business potential.

You will learn how to build a custom theme for your blog and incorporate multimedia content like images and video. Advanced promotion techniques like SEO and social media marketing are covered in detail before you learn how to monetize your blog and manage its growth.

WordPress 3 for Business Bloggers will help you to create a blog that brings real benefits to your business.

Publication date:
December 2011
Publisher
Packt
Pages
346
ISBN
9781849511322

 

Chapter 1. A Blog Less Ordinary—What Makes a Great Blog?

Blogging has been a part of the web landscape for over a decade now. From personal journals to big corporate marketing, the medium has matured to become a ubiquitous mode of live communication. The power of blogging has been recognized by the business community, and canny marketers view it as a powerful weapon in their digital arsenal.

If blogging is done well, it can bring myriad benefits to businesses of any size and if done badly, it can cause more harm than good. Central to the success of any business blogger is a thorough understanding of the technology he or she is using. This will give you a competitive advantage by being able to create a more engaging blog. You have wisely chosen WordPress as your blogging platform and this book will give you the in-depth knowledge of the software you need to take your blog from ordinary to exceptional.

This is not an introduction to WordPress; that is, we will not be covering the basics such as installation or how to post. Most readers will already have an established WordPress blog or will at least be in the advanced stages of planning one.

In this chapter, we will consider the essence of great blogs and the groundwork that is required to produce one. What separates the mediocre from the marvelous? What should you do to blast through the blogosphere and take your blog to the next level? We will look at some examples of the best blogs out there and see what we can learn from them. The principles outlined here are a jumping-off point for the techniques and methods that we will cover through the rest of the book. In this chapter, we cover:

  • Where you fit into the business blogosphere

  • How to identify your blog's strategic goals

  • Some of the major categories of business blogs

  • The tools and features in WordPress that help you to achieve your blog's goals

You can stand out from the crowd

Let's begin with a quick pep talk.

Making a success of your blog can seem like an uphill struggle. It's easy to be disheartened in the early days because success rarely happens overnight. One of the first psychological stumbling blocks for many bloggers is the overwhelming size of the blogosphere. It's easy to feel like a small fish in a very big pond. However, that's not necessarily the case.

It's true; the blogosphere is a crowded place, with millions of blogs out there all clambering for attention.

At first this seems a little daunting. You may be wondering how you can stand out in such a crowded arena. With so much live information being constantly updated, is there room for any more? Does the world need another blog? Is the web-surfing public in danger of reaching blog-saturation or information-overload? I believe the answers to these questions are yes, yes, and no, respectively.

There are many out there, but there are also a lot of web users hungry for information.

As well as being big, the blogosphere is also diverse. There are millions of blogs, which cover an enormous spectrum of subjects and genres. However, the blogosphere can be almost endlessly segmented, which gives meaning to your activities as a business blogger. You're not competing for audience share against the blogosphere as a whole. Like most bloggers, you'll find your niche and realize success is within your grasp.

 

You can stand out from the crowd


Let's begin with a quick pep talk.

Making a success of your blog can seem like an uphill struggle. It's easy to be disheartened in the early days because success rarely happens overnight. One of the first psychological stumbling blocks for many bloggers is the overwhelming size of the blogosphere. It's easy to feel like a small fish in a very big pond. However, that's not necessarily the case.

It's true; the blogosphere is a crowded place, with millions of blogs out there all clambering for attention.

At first this seems a little daunting. You may be wondering how you can stand out in such a crowded arena. With so much live information being constantly updated, is there room for any more? Does the world need another blog? Is the web-surfing public in danger of reaching blog-saturation or information-overload? I believe the answers to these questions are yes, yes, and no, respectively.

There are many out there, but there are also a lot of web users hungry for information.

As well as being big, the blogosphere is also diverse. There are millions of blogs, which cover an enormous spectrum of subjects and genres. However, the blogosphere can be almost endlessly segmented, which gives meaning to your activities as a business blogger. You're not competing for audience share against the blogosphere as a whole. Like most bloggers, you'll find your niche and realize success is within your grasp.

 

Where do you fit in?


Blogging began very much as an exercise in personal publishing. It was an evolution of the personal home pages that have been with us since the early days of the Web. It's still true that the majority of blogs take the form of a personal journal, with no implicit business agenda. (However, many 'personal' bloggers have found ways to monetize their activity; there is now a growing breed of 'professional bloggers', who derive much, if not all of their income from blogging.)

Note

It's widely believed that John Barger first used the term weblog in December 1997. Peter Merholz shortened it to blog in 1999, saying, "I've decided to pronounce the word 'Weblog' as 'wee-blog'. Or 'blog' for short."

It was politics and journalism that brought blogging into the mainstream, particularly in the wake of the 9/11 attacks of 2001. The 2004 US presidential elections marked a watershed as blogging became an increasingly normal part of the media landscape. Journalist, Andrew Sullivan, was a pioneer of the political blog, starting The Daily Dish in 2001. The following screenshot is of Andrew Sullivan's blog from September 30, 2001.

With politicians and influential journalists playing an active role in the blogosphere, it wasn't long until the business community recognized the potential benefits of blogging. Today, business blogging is commonplace with more and more web users expecting to see a 'Blog' link on company home pages.

In this very brief history of blogging we can already see three of the biggest blog genres: Personal Blogs, Political Blogs, and Business Blogs (there are, of course, many others). Most readers of this book will fall into the 'Business' genre.

 

Not all business blogs are the same


So, you're a business blogger. However, that doesn't say very much about your specific goals and aspirations. All blogs are different. Their reasons for existence vary depending on what the publisher is trying to achieve. The key to the success of your blog is having a clear vision of what you want it to do for you. This is your blogging strategy. Once it's clear in your mind, you can start to set concrete tactical goals for your blog, which we'll cover in Chapter 2,Introducing our Case Study—WPBizGuru.

For now, consider the 'raison d'être' of your blog. Why are you putting your time, energy, and resources into it? What do you hope to achieve?

Note

One of the key drivers for many business bloggers is the fact that blogs can be a very inexpensive form of marketing—you can get a lot of value for a relatively small investment.

Obviously, not all business bloggers are trying to achieve the same things with their blogs, but here are a few of the more common strategic goals of business blogging:

  • To increase sales

  • To add value to your products and services

  • To open a dialog with your customers

  • To raise awareness of your company, products, and services

  • To demonstrate your knowledge and expertise

  • To provide customer service and support

  • To improve public relations (for example, media relations, reputation management, crisis management, and so on)

  • To drive traffic to your other website(s)

  • To give some personality to your corporate image

You may well have several of these strategic goals in mind for your blog. There is no reason why your blog can't achieve a combination of these. Let's take a look at each of the goals in more detail with some examples of blogs that have them. (Not all of the example blogs here are created in WordPress; they're included as they are good illustrations of these strategic goals.)

Increasing sales

A blog can be a great way of expanding and updating your online and offline sales literature. Posting about the benefits and features of your products or services can be a great way of converting leads into sales. This usually involves a simpler approach rather than a full-on hard sell. Your regular sales brochure, whether online or offline, will probably list your selling points with brief explanations, which for many customers, can seem rather over-hyped. A blog allows you to expand on your selling points and, in doing so, demonstrate that there is more to your products than just sales hype.

A great example of a 'sales' blog is that of GPS manufacturer, Garmin (http://garmin.blogs.com). Their blog not only gives background information about the products, it also shows innovative ways in which customers are using their GPS units, going beyond the scope of their regular sales literature. There are also plenty of customer testimonials and images of the products actually being used.

Adding value

Your blog is a great place to tell customers about extra features and added benefits of your products and services. This is related to the idea of increasing sales, already mentioned, so your blog can probably kill two birds with one stone. Customers who use your products and services can learn ways of getting more out of them. For example, software developers might blog about hidden features that regular users might not otherwise know about.

A good example of this type of blog is the 37signals Product Blog (http://productblog.37signals.com/). The company uses it to educate its customers about features in its range of online productivity software. The following screenshot illustrates this approach—who knew how to change time zones in Basecamp? As well as adding value for its existing customers, this kind of information is also sales material for prospective buyers.

A dialog with your customers

Blogs provide the perfect environment for a genuine conversation with your customers. A key feature of any blog is the ability of readers to write comments about posts. Businesses can use this in-built technology to engage in a live conversation with their customers. It can be a great way of receiving feedback and testing opinions about new products and services, as well as finding out what your customers really want.

Obviously, opening up public communication channels with your customers can involve some risk—you may receive damaging comments. How to deal with negative feedback is a delicate issue that we'll look at in more detail in Chapter 8, Connecting with the Blogosphere. For this reason, many large businesses do not use comments on their blogs. A notable exception is Boeing, which does allow comments on its blog (http://boeingblogs.com/randy/).

Raising awareness

Blogs are a great way to raise awareness for your company and products. The nature of the blogosphere is that bloggers link to each other. This provides a great platform for spreading your message virally. Having your blog linked to and commented on by bloggers across the globe can spread the word quickly. It's a great form of buzz marketing, and many start-ups use a blog to create an air of anticipation about their forthcoming launch.

Joost, the web TV Company, used a blog in the lead-up to its launch, using the code name 'The Venice Project'. It helped to create a buzz and raised awareness for the company before it launched (http://joost.com/).

Showing expertise

Demonstrating your professional knowledge and positioning yourself as an expert in your field is a great way of raising your business profile. This is particularly true for consultants and others who are hired because of their knowledge and experience. Web designers, academics, authors, life coaches, and software developers are just a few examples of the kinds of business people who may wish to demonstrate their expertise. Using a blog is a great way to achieve this because it provides a regularly updated outlet to showcase your professional activities and write about your achievements.

A great WordPress blog that demonstrates this is that of web designer, Jeffrey Zeldman (http://www.zeldman.com). He uses his blog to discuss issues in the web design arena and give his comment about what's happening in the industry.

Providing customer service

Providing efficient customer service is the cornerstone of most successful businesses. Using a blog as part of your customer service provision can be a great help to both you and your customers. You can use your blog to provide answers to frequently asked customer service questions. Blogs are also great for quickly alerting your customers to product issues as they arise.

A great example of a customer services blog is Dell's Direct2Dell (http://direct2dell.com/).

Public relations

Your blog can provide a great window on your business. It can put a human face on the organization and provide a great way for both the public and media to get an understanding of what you're about. Blogs can also provide a means to transmit your company news, which can complement or maybe even replace the traditional press release. They also provide a forum to discuss and respond to any media coverage you receive, be it good or bad. A blog is also an invaluable tool for crisis management, as it enables you to provide instant updates about any negative situation you may find yourself in. Blogs allow you to control your corporate reputation.

Digg's blog has a strong public relations focus. It provides plenty of good-news stories, such as awards the company has picked up and enhancements to its service. It also uses it to respond quickly to any potentially damaging feedback it has received about its service. The blog also gives a good sense of the company's ethos and outlook, which is useful in managing its brand and reputation. All in all, the Digg blog is a great example of a WordPress blog with a PR-focus (http://blog.digg.com/):

Driving traffic

Search engines love blogs. A continuous supply of frequently updated content is the key to improving search engine rankings. However, many company websites are updated infrequently, particularly if they are brochure style sites. A blog is a great way of bringing dynamic and fresh content into the mix. If you have a relatively lightweight company website that isn't updated too often, you'll find you get far better search engine success from a blog. It's basically down to the fact that search engines like fresh content to index.

This strategy would work particularly well if you keep your blog within your site's domain. So, rather than having www.mycompany.com and www.mycompanyblog.com as separate domains, consider placing your blog at http://blog.mycompany.com. This is becoming the standard approach for more and more company websites, who understand the importance of driving traffic from their blog to their main website (or vice versa—it works both ways).

An example of this approach is the blog set up by Articulate, an e-learning tools company (http://blog.articulate.com/). Not only are the blog pages within the main site's domain, they are also well integrated into the design and navigation of the main site. The blog and the main website have similar headers and menu bars.

Add some personality

Blogging's evolution with its roots in personal journals means many blogs often take on a very conversational style. This lends itself very well to injecting a personal touch or a human face to corporate communications. Many companies use blogs to reveal some of the personalities behind the business. These days, many CEOs and senior executives blog on behalf of their companies. The topics discussed aren't necessarily related to company activities. These bloggers have the opportunity to write about their extra-curricular interests or anything else that takes their fancy.

This approach can be very useful in building a relationship with your customers. People are now far more used to informal communications with the organizations with which they do business. They like to get to know the people behind the corporate façade. Nevertheless, it's still important to gauge the tone correctly. If things get too informal or inappropriate content begins to creep in, you may end up upsetting or alienating some of your customers.

Bill Marriott, Chairman and CEO of Marriott International, maintains a blog at http://www.blogs.marriott.com/. The blog contains a mix of his personal musings as well as company news, and remains firmly under the Marriott brand. It's an excellent opportunity for a huge multi-national corporation to give a personal touch to its web communications.

 

Categorizing business blogs


So these are a few of the strategic goals that successful business blogs aspire to. They provide you with one method of analyzing your blog (and the blogs of others).

But we can also look at blogs in terms of their type. Looking around the blogosphere, we see many types or styles of blog. Each of these types of blog is likely to have its own set of strategic goals. By understanding what your strategic goals are, you can probably determine what type of blog you should have. We can measure the success of a blog by looking at its type and deciding whether it achieves the strategic goals for that particular blog type.

Product blogs

These tend to simply focus on a company's product(s). They provide information on research and development, product features, user guides, where to buy, and anything else directly related to the product or service. They are usually regarded as a straightforward sales channel—their purpose is to close sales. The strategic goals that these blogs are trying to achieve are usually to increase sales and add value.

A great example of a product blog is the Amazon Web Services Blog, which the company uses to tell its customers about newly developed products and services (http://aws.typepad.com/aws/).

Corporate or company blogs

This is probably the most diverse type of blog as it can fulfill many, if not all, of the strategic goals we highlighted previously. The corporate blog can take many forms and has many purposes.

These are at once the easiest kind of business blog to get started and the easiest to get wrong because remaining focused can be a challenge. They provide almost a completely blank canvas, so it's important to identify the strategic goals and stick to them.

General corporate blogs are probably the most common type of business blogs to be found on the web. They provide a great deal of flexibility and can cover a diverse range of subject matters.

If you have several strategic goals in mind for your blog, you will most likely end up with a general corporate blog. A great example of this type of blog, built using WordPress, is Flickr (http://blog.flickr.com/en).

News blogs

These are a slightly different type of blog as they can be a business in their own right.

They usually provide news coverage for a specific niche and may be run by an expert in that field or a team of experts. Many of the most popular blogs on the web take this form. A lot of these focus on internet and digital technologies. They are almost like online magazines or newspapers.

Because of the high traffic that these types of blogs can attract, many have become successful independent media businesses by raising revenue from advertising sales and corporate sponsorships.

In terms of the strategic goals behind this type of blog, it tends to show expertise and adding personality. However, as many of these are businesses in their own right, they also have the goal of increasing sales, that is, advertising sales.

Some notable blogs in this category are TechCrunch (http://www.techcrunch.com/), GigaOM (http://gigaom.com/), and Mashable (http://mashable.com/), all of which use WordPress.

Expert blogs

These are written by pundits or experts in their field. They are usually aimed at promoting the business activity of the author. The experts behind these blogs may be freelance consultants, professional speakers, authors, or they may run their own companies.

Again, many of the most popular blogs on the web are of this type. Some expert bloggers derive a good income simply from running their blogs—they can monetize the high traffic they receive by selling advertising space.

The strategic goals behind these blogs are usually raising awareness of the expert's business activities, demonstrating knowledge and expertise, and driving traffic to the expert's other websites.

Expert blogs can also come under the auspices of large corporations who use the reputation of some of their senior employees to improve their company profile.

Some expert blogs have a long history coming directly from the tradition of the 'personal home page', which was instrumental in the development of blogging. Famous expert bloggers include Seth Godin (http://sethgodin.typepad.com/), Robert Scoble (http://www.scobleizer.com/), and Guy Kawasaki (http://blog.guykawasaki.com/ — shown in the following screenshot).

These are just four, rather broad categories. It's easy to see that many blogs will fit into one or another of these types, but some blogs cross over and there are certainly other types of blogs that we haven't covered. The main point to understand is that having a clear idea of the type of blog you want to achieve, based on your strategic goals, is an important first step in making your blog a success.

 

The WordPress arsenal


We've seen that successful blogs need clearly defined strategic goals and these goals will often determine the type of blog that will work best.

WordPress is one of the most powerful blogging platforms available, and it makes possible a number of techniques and methods that will help you put your strategic goals into practice. The tools, techniques, and methods you pull out of the WordPress arsenal will depend on your blog's strategic goals.

We'll be covering these techniques in detail throughout the rest of the book, but here are a few of them to give you a taste of what's to come.

Good design

Whatever your strategic goals may be, design is going to be an important consideration—you must come up with a design that facilitates your strategic goals.

Luckily, WordPress gives you almost unlimited control over the look and feel of your blog. You may have already experimented with ready-made themes, of which there are thousands available from various sources. However, we'll be looking at how to modify WordPress themes so that you can develop a unique design that fits your purpose perfectly.

Maximizing usability

This will be closely linked to the design of your blog. Ensuring that your blog is usable and accessible to everyone is a key to its success. Your readers must be able to navigate your blog and find the content easily.

WordPress has many built-in features that help to maximize usability. There are also several plugins that can be used to improve this. Throughout the book, we'll be looking at a selection of the best plugins, so that you can choose the ones you really need.

Promoting your blog

Again, whichever strategic goals you are aiming for, a key factor to your blog's success will be getting it out to as big an audience as possible.

Promoting blogs is a wide-ranging skill that involves many techniques. For example, Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is central to any promotion strategy. There are many ways that you can use WordPress to improve the findability of your site and we will be covering these in detail.

WordPress also enables you to take advantage of social networking and social bookmarking. We will also be looking at syndication and submitting your blog to the various indices, such as Technorati. Chapter 6, Search Engine Optimization and Chapter 7, Supercharged Promotion will give you all the details on promoting your blog to the search engines and beyond.

Analyzing the statistics

It is essential to monitor the progress of your blog, and WordPress offers many tools that enable you to do this. We will also look Google Analytics, a third-party statistics tool.

We will be looking at the various statistics that are available to you and examining how you can use the data to push your blog forward.

Managing content

WordPress is a powerful content management system and we will be looking at the ways you can manage all types of content within your blog. Depending on your strategic goals, there may be many different types of content that you need to create. From static pages to image galleries and multimedia content, WordPress gives you the control you need.

We will also be developing the skills you need to create engaging and relevant content, including copywriting techniques, and how to manage categories.

Monetizing your blog

WordPress provides you with a variety of options to develop revenue streams from your blog. There are several plugins and widgets that help you to do this.

In Chapter 10, Monetizing your Blog, we will be looking at creative methods of generating cash via your blog, which could go a long way towards covering its running costs or even develop into a significant revenue stream for your business.

Measuring success

To ensure that your blog is a worthwhile use of your resources and is providing benefit to your business, you need to measure its success. It's also useful to be able to assess other blogs against yours, and against others within your market sector.

There are several tools that can be used to measure the success of blogs.

Google PageRank

This is an algorithm that Google uses to rank web pages in its index. In very rough terms, the PageRank of a web page is assessed by the number of other pages that link to it. Google gives a numeric weighting from 0-10 for each web page on the Internet. The higher the PageRank, the higher up it appears in Google's search results. So, having a high PageRank helps you to achieve a better ranking in Google.

Taken on its own, it is a matter of some debate how important PageRank actually is. But as a general rule of thumb, PageRank is a good indicator of how well a page is doing. You can see the PageRank of any web page by installing the Google Toolbar (http://toolbar.google.com/).

Alexa ranking

Alexa (http://www.alexa.com/) is a company that measures websites based on the traffic they receive. You can look up any website in Alexa to see how well it ranks. The higher up the list a website appears the more traffic it receives.

 

Summary


In this chapter, we have considered what makes a great blog. We have looked at how the success of a blog depends on its strategic goals and how well it fulfils them. We outlined a number of strategic goals that are relevant to business blogs and saw examples of blogs that aspire to those goals.

We have also seen a number of blog types that are derived from the various strategic goals, and introduced some of the tools and features of WordPress that allow bloggers to realize them.

In the next chapter, you'll be introduced to the case study blog we'll be using throughout the book. You'll learn how to identify your own strategic goals and draw up your blog plan, by using the case study as an example.

About the Author

  • Paul Thewlis

    Paul Thewlis has worked as a web communications professional in the public and private sectors. He is currently E-Communications Manager for a multinational transport company based in the UK. He began his web career as a Technical Editor, working on web design books for a well-known publisher. He has extensive experience of many content management systems and blogging platforms. He is an expert in the use of social media within corporate communications.


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