Business Blogging – Free Blogs vs “Your” blog

One of the great things about having a business blog is it allows people who visit to ask questions via the comments section.   Think of your business blog as an FAQ (frequently asked questions) page on steroids. Even if you have a “regular” website and even if that website has an FAQ page – a blog can still help you to illustrate all the  potential benefits consumers can experience by using your products and/or services.

That’s just one reason business blogs are great for growing your business.  They provide an opportunity for visitors to ask questions…. visitors who have found your business blog post while searching for information via the search engines.  Recently, a visitor to this blog asked: “Is it better to have the blog on your own website or blog on another site that lets you post your blogs there for free?”

What a great question.   It’s such a great -and basic-  question that surely it’s one I’ve answered before.

OOPS!!!

Maybe not.

Is it possible that over the course of 314 blog posts that I haven’t answered this basic question about business blogging? A quick search through the posts and pages on this site reveals that I haven’t addressed this topic previously and it’s definitely one that needs to be addressed.

Why would you want to PAY for a business blog when you can blog so many places for free??

Well – as in most things online – FREE rarely is truly “free”.  Often times – free comes with strings attached.  The same is true of  blogs.

While WordPress offers an incredibly easy, world famous 5 minute installation of the software – and if your hosting includes cpanel you can install WordPress without ever connecting via FTP – to truly set up your own self hosted WordPress business blog and use it as a powerful marketing tool requires a willingness to acquire a minimal level of technical expertise.   Not only do you need to possess (or be willing to acquire) a smidgen of tech savvy to set up WordPress on your own – you need to make sure you keep your installation of WordPress up to date to protect your business blog from hackers.

There is an easier way – and that’s to simply set up your blog on one of the many free blog sites. Free blogs are by far the easiest way to get started blogging.  They’re easy to use and easy to set up but because they’re free – but as anyone can tell you who has launched a blog – there’s a lot more to creating a success blog than simply creating a blog post or two.   To unlock the full power of blogging for your business- you need a to craft a business blogging strategy in order to create a successful blog.

Let’s say you are able to invest the time and effort needed to educate yourself on your own on how to create a successful blog to promote your business.  You might be thinking that it’s better to “learn the ropes” while blogging on a free site and then migrate your site to a self hosted blog – one which YOU control.

Which brings us to  one of the key “sticking” points with free blogging sites.  I liken it to building a house on land you do not own.

A while back, Yahoo decided to pull the plug on their free blogging site – much to the dismay of those who had come to depend upon the free blogging service.   This illustrates a key point which is when it comes to free blogs – there’s no guarantee that any free blogging site will either continue to operate or continue to remain free. (A quick read of  Tumblr’s terms of service agreement will reveal that they reserve the right to begin charging for the service at an unspecified point of time in the future).

With the more successful free blog sites, you can probably rest assured that they won’t pull the plug on your free blog site because they have developed a way to make money from your blog posts.  You might be surprised to learn that many free blogging sites can use a plugin which inserts a special piece of code into each blog post.  This bit of code will only display ads to visitors when they find your blog post via the search engines.   You might not be aware of these ads because the plugin can be configured to not display ads to the author – or to visitors who arrive at the blog via other means like when they follow a link from your business website to the blog.

In other words, when you use one of these “freebie” blog sites – very often the visitors who find your post via the search engines will also be seeing paid ads in the body of the posts.  Because of the nature of online advertising – those ads will most likely be run by you or your competitors.

It’s a brilliant easy money strategy for the free blog site owners because when someone finds your blog post via a search on a search engine –  they are usually very serious about finding the products and services you offer – and very likely to click on these ads.  If you’ve ever run a PPC campaign, you know that such ads can run as high as $20 or more per click. This is why these free blog services are willing to allow your quality blog posts live on their site for no charge, because you’re doing the work and they get paid from advertiser dollars instead of from you directly.

Still not convinced that starting your business blog under your own domain on your own web hosting account is the way to go?

Here’s the final item I’ll submit for your consideration – blogs obey the same “rules” that govern the web.  One of the “rules” of the web is that older sites (and blogs) do better than newer sites (and blogs).  The search engines LOVE blogs – especially older established blogs – blogs with loads of incoming links.  Most of those incoming links – when you create a blog on a free hosting service – will be linking  – for example – to yourblog.wordpress.com.

So when you decide to migrate your blog to your own domain name – you may be able to pull the database and migrate the blog posts – but you won’t be able to pull the incoming links with you.  Those links STAY pointing to the free blog – you’ll have to earn new incoming links to your newly migrated blog just the same as if you started from scratch.  I recommend that when a business blogger wants to migrate from a free blog to a self hosted blog that they leave the blog intact on the free site and simply start from scratch again – creating a text sidebar widget which directs visitors of the free blog to the new blog – where new information can be found.

Creating a successful business blog is a time consuming process that can yield great rewards for your business.   Blogging for your business is truly a numbers game. Each week – you can create just two blog posts which results in over 100 pages of content written each year.   As you create those blog posts, you’ll  be unintentionally targeting “long tail keywords” – low volume keywords which people tend to use when they are REALLY searching online for information about the products and services you offer.  As time goes on – those blog posts can more an more “authority” until most business blogs have literally dozens of blog posts – each bringing a trickle of prospective customers into the funnel.    As those trickles combine – they grow into a stream and finally a mighty river.  It doesn’t happen overnight – but it can and does happen.

Blogging for your business – It’s a numbers game

In Blogging for your business I shared that one of the reasons a business blog is a valuable business building tool is because you can quickly and easily publish content to the web.  The value of this ability is often lost upon those who don’t eat/breathe/sleep the web.

The Web Game is Just Another Numbers Game

Most “ordinary” business people think that a single web site with only three or four pages can effectively compete when it comes to the web.  What they frequently overlook is that many of the results returned on the first few pages of a search query are often web pages which are part of mega sites with hundreds – in some cases – thousands of pages.

Take for example – Wikipedia.  Do a search for specific information and chances are – a Wikipedia article will  be listed on the first few pages of the search.  According to Wikipedia – the official count for the number of articles which appear there numbers in the 750,000 range. Because these articles are very specific in scope – they often provide exactly the information a web visitor is seeking.

This is why I sometimes have been known to snarl and foam at the mouth when a blog owner who has written 5 blog posts over the past year complains to me that his or her blog is not “working” because it’s not appearing at the top of highly competitive searches.

Winning the web game is in part a numbers game.  Wikipedia has over three quarters of a million “articles” in there competing for a top spot when the search engines provide a list of links containing the information the web visitor has entered to search.   Most of those articles link liberally to other articles on the site.  Because the articles are frequently displayed on the first page of various searches – blog owners and webmasters liberally link to the articles as well.

Compare this “winning” web strategy with the typical “set it and forget it” static web site preferred by most business owners.  The business owner creates a web site and populates the three to ten pages with the content a copywriter created years ago for the company brochure.  The content was stale before it was published to the web – and it continues to languish in the deepest, darkest corners of the web.   It’s like buying 10 tickets for the lottery on the day you launched the website – and then not buying any more tickets yet expecting to win.

Winning the web game is a numbers game.  The business blog with 300 blog posts – created over the course of three years – stands a much better chance of coming up on what is known as a “long tail search”.  Long tail searches are words not searched upon frequently.  Often, these “long tail search” terms are often performed by people who are actively researching a purchasing decision.

For example, 1,000,000 people used the term “lower back pain” to search the web last month.  That’s a LOT of people searching for information on lower back pain.  However, while there are a lot of people searching for the term “lower back pain” there are relatively few who are searching for “lower back pain relief in Boca Raton, Fl.” If you’re a chiropractor – you want to be sure your business web presence is one that is seen by the person who types those words into a search engine looking for answers.

If you’re a chiropractor with a blog though – it’s easy to create a blog post on how chiropractic can help relieve lower back pain.  By the simple act of creating this informative blog post – you instantly create an “article” much like the 750,000 articles which are featured on Wikipedia.  This blog post joins your other blog posts – where you’ve written about how you’ve helped patients with severe lower back pain, chronic lower back pain, and even lower left back pain.  Before you know it, by simply blogging about the different conditions you see in your practice – you’ve created a robust library of helpful “articles” (a.k.a. blog posts) on various specific topics which your prospective patients might use to find information on the web.

Will you create such a robust repository overnight?  Of course not – but one of the best reasons to begin blogging for your business is over the course of time – you can create a robust online resource which will continue to provide a stream of prospective patients long after you’ve written the initial post.

The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.  Start blogging today so tomorrow your blog posts have a chance of “showing up” when your prospective customers/clients go searching for answers on the web.

Blogging for Your Business

When I say “blogs” – many business owners start seeing horrible visions in their mind’s eye.   Some see self-obsessed, narcissistic egomaniacs for whom the ultimate goal is fame – or infamy – either one, as long as people remember their name.  Others see blogging as a six inch thick chain, locking them to their computer – forced to compose dozens of blog posts daily without the benefit of spell or grammar check.

However, when I talk about blogging for your business, I don”t see the distorted visions most business owners see.  What I see when I talk about business blogging is a cost effective, powerful and affordable business building tool.

Most of today’s popular blogging software programs began as CMS – Content Management Software.  Their express purpose was to make publishing information to the web quick and easy for those who didn’t want to learn the intricacies of HTML, CSS, FTP and a dozen other alphabet soup web terms which were needed to get your marketing message published to the web not so very long ago.

So when I’m talking about blogging for your business – I’m talking about using software to make it easy to get your marketing message onto the web.    When you see an egomaniac who is using the software for shameless self promotion – your thought as a business owner should be, “If that idiot can operate a blog to get his/her message onto the web – I can use a blog to do something useful – like educate my customers via the web.”

While wild visions of colorful – and sometimes offensive characters – may fill your mind’s eye when it comes to business blogging – in reality business blogging is actually best suited for those with an eye to the future.  Business blogs do a great job of building authority and authority (authority =  trust + power… the power to motivate people to take action.) takes a lot longer to create than a fleeting case of infamy.

Creating a business blog post today takes a certain amount of time – which causes many business owners to join in the battle cry of  I don’t have time to blog.  However, while your blog posts do take some time to create – they continue to live on your blog for as long as your blog is in existence – and sometimes beyond as  it seems the internet never forgets.

Imagine if the radio ad you ran last week could continue to be aired indefinitely – and it only aired when a radio listener announced to the radio that he/she was interested in the products and services your business provides.  That’s exactly the way your business blog posts can work to promote your business.

So when you hear the term “blogging for your business” try to erase from your mind visions of reminiscent of an episode of Jerry Springer – and instead view business blogging through a new lens.  Business blogging is a way for your business to quickly and easily communicate with prospective customers via the web.  The informative blog post you create today will live on to continue working with other blog posts – bringing real customers to your business.  That’s the real beauty of business blogging.

Treating people like people

When you start treating people like people, they become people.  ~Paul Vitale

Social media is becoming a force to be reckoned with in the world of business. The consumer controlled conversations happening online are literally reshaping the way brands are perceived.  Consumers have more power today than ever before in history.  You’d think that would be a good thing.  You might even think that everyone from marketing managers to CEOs would be mining those conversations to get a “ground zero” view of how their brand is perceived.

Instead a common reaction to this burgeoning phenomenon – other than the popular ignoring it and hoping it will go away – is to try desperately to depersonalize social media which  is – by nature – a truly personal phenomenon.

Figures Lie and Liars Figure

One way to depersonalize social media is to focus upon the stats.  Make sure you only pay attention to statistics that can be easily imported into impressive PowerPoint graphics like graphs and pie charts.    Focusing on visitors, RSS subscribers and comment numbers is a great way to depersonalize your blog.

The bean counters in companies love stats – and quit honestly statistics have value – but allowing statistics to take center stage is a great way to depersonalize your social media presence.

One of the first places I start when I work with a client is to get a handle on the “stats” of their web presence.  I once had a client who had a 75% sign up rate for her email newsletter who contacted me because she wanted to change the copy one her web site to “improve” her newsletter sign up numbers.  Instead of changing her copy – we took a look BEHIND the stats.  She wasn’t getting a lot of traffic to her site – but the traffic she was getting was tightly targeted and very interested in her products and services.   The stats in this case gave us an opportunity to dig deeper – and discover what the “real” problem was.

The “real” problem – by the way – was that she had been making the rounds of the “internet marketing gurus” who were promising her quick, exponential, sustainable and profitable business growth.  (The preceding statement is an intentional oxymoron.  No morons were harmed in the creation of that statement.)

By digging into the “stats” – we could see that she was on track to create slow but sustainable and profitable growth.

Bots – Bots – Bots

Another way to depersonalize social media is to employ bots – automated programs which are poor attempts at mimicking human behavior.  Bots can be do -gooders.  Without bots you’d have no way to find the content you want on the trillions of pages available online.  However, bots can be evil.  Bots are why you have to enter characters displayed in an image to access content across the web.

In the early days of social media – you could purchase a bot program which would automatically go through and “befriend” people on MySpace.  Launch the program today and by next week you could have thousands of MySpace “friends” for your business. The problem with this strategy is that none of those “friends” – none of those connections – were “real”.

Those easily gained connections were great for the stats – they were great for inflating super sized egos – but they were absolutely awful when it came to conversions.

The real value of a blog for your business.

Blogs are great for your business because you can begin composing the never ending story of what your business does for real people.  As you create those blog posts they can actually rise to the top of long tail search queries – you know, the kind of search queries made by prospective customers who are seeking real information before they make an online purchase.

Then – when people who are actually looking for the products and services your business offers can – GASP- actually make a connection with you via your blog.   They can read – and then – they can ask a question – make a comment or even subscribe to your RSS feed to see when you share more information they need to know in order to buy.

So often – in the “web world” – we are guilty of using the term “visitors” or “users” instead of calling them what they really are – PEOPLE. In her blog post The Benefits Of Visualizing Your Future Customers, Cath Lawson shares that visualizing your future customers is a technique used by some of the most successful people in the world.  She points out that by visualizing your customers – as people and not faceless “visitors” – you can begin to shape your business to meet your customer’s needs.  I go on and on about the subject of viewing your customers as people with Goals – Desires – and Problems (GDP) and how to create marketing messages which speak to your target audience’s GDP in my book Beyond the Niche: Essential Tools You Need to Create Marketing Messages that Deliver Results.

You can’t expect a mindless bot to generate an insightful diagnosis based on a simple log file analysis.  However, when you start treating social media like it’s powered by people – people who want real connections – you’ll find social media is literally a goldmine of information you can use to connect with customers and build your business.

Blogs for Business – The Never Ending Story

In 1984 – the tale of a boy who steals a book called The Neverending Story” was brought to life on the movie screen.  In the movie, the book magically transports the boy to the fantasy world of Fantasia where a dark force called “The Nothing” threatens it’s existence.  In the end – the boy’s mere wishes banish the dark forces from not only Fantasia but also in the “real” world as well.

Two decades later – it takes more than mere wishes to banish the dark force of “The Nothing” from your business web presence.

A few years ago – I began introducing business owners to a new type of web presence for their business – a business blog.  These business blogs were great for businesses on so many levels.  Because of the flat site architecture imposed by the blog – the search engines have an easy time getting around inside the site to index the content.  Because content is easy to add – updating and adding new tasty “spider food” for the web bots is a snap.

Yet even though business blogs are great marketing tools for business owners,  I still recieve constant “push back” from business owners when it comes to launching a business blog.

A recent conversation gave me fresh insight as to the “why” behind the push back regarding business blogs.  This prospective client had a vision of her business web presence as a “finished” product.  She thought of her web site like a movie – a movie on VHS – with a definite beginning, middle and end.  She didn’t want the visitor to have the option available on DVD’s to “select a scene” – she wanted the visitor to read the opening page followed by the next page in the navigation menu, and so forth.

It’s nice to dream – and it’s nice to wish.  However, wishing and dreaming won’t change the way things REALLY work on the web.

The way it really works on the web is that every page of your web presence is a potential “entry” page.  If your web presence were to take the form of a house –  every room would have a door which leads outside but no windows.  Second story rooms would also have doors which lead outside – although in the words of ancient Saturday morning cartoons, “Watch that first step – it’s a loo loo.”  Those precarious second story rooms would be pages that are more than 1 click from any other page.  Internal links on your site are the interconnecting hallways which allow visitors to navigate your site without going “back” outside.

Admittedly – this doesn’t sound like an appealing physical structure for your business – but online this is “reality.”   Any attempts to block those doors to the outside and “funnel” visitors through the site according to your plan will only result in the dark force of “The Nothing” taking over your site.

The key to a healthy, wealth producing business website is to be constantly creating new rooms for visitors -and search engines alike – to explore.  If each page on your business website is a room – then your goal should be to set up a table in the center of that room – and provide cookies, finger sandwiches and a wide assortment of beverages you know your visitors will enjoy.

Which is why – blogs make such a GREAT foundation for your business web presence – especially if you’re a small business owner.  Your business blog allows you to create new rooms at will for your business home on the web.  If you discover a new customer base – you simply start creating new content on your business blog – creating new rooms filled with tasty morsels loved by humans and search spiders alike.

As for the client who wanted to create a static web presence with only one way in – think of what would happen in the “real” world if a room was devoid of light and the only way in or out was through an inner hallway.  As for the once tasty morsels on the tables in the various rooms – well, since those won’t be consumed by either search engine spiders or visitors – they won’t be tasty morsels for long.

Your blog for your business allows you the opportunity to easily create lots of compelling content for prospective clients/customers.  Admittedly – business blogging is like writing the Neverending Story – but the good news is that the more content you create – the more tables you set out for prospective customers/clients who visit your business blog  a.k.a. web site.