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.

On your way to the top – you might fall down

I’d like to introduce you to Janet Simpson.  She is a nutrition coach and registered dietitian.  However, she’s also  an entrepreneur, a professor, a mentor, a grandmother and tri-athlete.  She could have cut time from her first triathlon if she hadn’t stopped to hug and kiss her grandchildren who were there to cheer her on.

In other words, Janet is “Wonder Woman” in the flesh.

Janet had previously shared with me that she was planning to run in a 5 mile “fun run”.  If running five miles doesn’t sound like “fun” to you – you ain’t heard nothing yet.  When she finished with her fun run, she planned on helping race organizers tend to the needs of those running the 100 mile course.  That’s not a typo – in addition to the “mini” 5 mile run, there were half and full marathons in addition to the  one hundred mile competition!!!

Eighty people signed up to run the 100 mile course, and Janet later told me that the winner finished in a mere 18 hours.  She reported that he looked as fresh and energized as if he’d just completed a jog around the block.  Of the 80 who signed up for the 100 mile run – 60 completed the course in well under the 30 hour time limit.  Of those who didn’t finish – all completed at least 60 of the 100 mile run – before succumbing to such injuries as their toenails falling off.  One competitor ran the entire 100 miles barefoot.  Did I mention the race was held in October in Michigan?  BRRRR!!!!

If you think running 100 miles in the course of a single day barefoot in the cold sounds like an entry in the DSM-IV for some form of mental illness – you’re not alone.

While the runner who won the 100 mile run finished the race looking and feeling great – the same couldn’t be said for Janet. The course she ran followed a trail which lead through a forest.   The leaves from the trees  had  fallen, covering the exposed roots and other hidden dangers.  As Janet began her descent down a steep hill, she found herself flying through the air.  She had inadvertently hooked her toe under an exposed  tree root- hidden from view by the leaves.  She landed face down with enough force to not only scrape her face, hands and knees but also to knock the wind out of her and  crack a rib or two in the process.

Here’s the amazing part – the part that anyone who aspires to build a business of any size needs to know –

Janet still finished the race.

Even though she was battered and bruised, she sill  finished running the race -and came in 2nd in her age category to boot.   Initially she justified finishing the race by saying that she fell at the 2.5 mile mark and it only made sense to keep moving forward.  However, she later admitted that she could have chosen to ride to the finish line – but she was determined to finish the race under her own power.

What this story has to do with building your business

Building a business is hard.  I’ve worked with literally hundreds of new business owners and few are prepared for how difficult the process can be.  It’s taxing physically, mentally and emotionally.  As a general rule, everything will cost more than you think it will and take longer to complete than you think it should.  It’s just how business launches go.

New business owners are rarely prepared for the many obstacles they will have to overcome as they launch their new business.  While some hazards are common enough to be experienced by almost all business owners, others are like the tree roots in the forest through which Janet ran which laid hidden beneath the leaves.

According to Patricia Schaefer at Business Know How, one of the key attributes needed to start a business is the ability to recover after encountering such hidden obstacles.  She writes:

You learn from your mistakes, and use these lessons to succeed the next time around. Brian Head, Economist with the SBA Office of Advocacy, noted that studies of successful business owners showed they attributed much of their success to “building on earlier failures;” on using failures as a “learning process”.

Some hazards you’ll encounter as you launch your business are predictable.  That’s why you choose carefully the team members you’ll use to support you as you build your business.  A good accountant, attorney or business consultant can help a new business owner see many potential hazards which lie ahead.  Their advice is often worth it’s weight in gold – but if you’ve never tripped on a hidden root and broken a rib – you might not realize how valuable your trusted adviser’s advice is.

No matter how good your counsel – chances are that as you build your business – you’re going to have to navigate a steep path covered with newly fallen leaves.  You too may stumble upon a hidden exposed tree root and you may find yourself lying face down on the ground, battered and bruised with the wind knocked out of you.

At that moment – you’ll  have a decision to make.  Will you use the fall as your excuse to leave the race?  Will you climb upon the courtesy cart and be ferried back to the finish line?  Or – will you pick yourself up and start running again – heading towards the finish line?

The answer ultimately determines whether or not you’ll succeed in your business – because it’s not a question of WHETHER you’ll fall.  You will fall.  It’s just a matter of when, where and why.

No- the question is whether you decide to get up and try, try again after the fall. Will you view your fall as a learning experience – or will you view it as the end of the race?

Social Media’s Role in Branding

Before social media, branding was the buzzword of the marketing and advertising industry.  Like social media today – many in the “biz” were familiar with the term branding – but really didn’t “get” what it was really all about.  As a result a lot of “noise” has been made about branding which focuses upon the choice of colors, logo or other visual elements used in marketing.   But branding is so much more than just the visual packaging of your business or even your business name.  While the name and the visual elements are a way to quickly communicate the “core” or DNA of your business to consumers who don’t know you yet – your true BRAND is built through interaction with your customers.

I’ve always said that branding is not something you do to your business – but rather it’s something your customers do to your business.  Just as a calf does not control the hot metal which sears a symbol into it’s flesh – your company’s brand is controlled consumers.  This is why focusing upon the consumer and striving to meet their expectations is the foundation of branding.  Social media gives businesses a way to make that connection – to collect that information – and to actually see your business from the consumer’s point of view.

Peter Drucker was a self-described “social ecologist” whose insight helped to build some of the most successful companies in the world including General Electric, Coca-Cola, Citicorp, IBM, and Intel. Drucker attempted to unveil some of the “mystique” surrounding branding,

“Suppliers and especially manufacturers have market power because they have information about a product or a service that the customer does not and cannot have, and does not need if he can trust the brand. This explains the profitability of brands.”

According to Drucker – the essence of branding is building trust and long term business profitability ultimately depends upon building trust with consumers.  Branding is all about building trust with consumers.   When consumers can trust you – they’re more likely to buy from you.  Social media provide the communication tools necessary to engage consumers and build that trust.

The process of building trust with consumers used to be as mysterious and abstract as quantum mechanics.   Companies had no way of knowing whether they had made a “connection” with consumers other than to watch for the cash register to tally up another sale.    Social media is providing revolutionary insight into this once obscure concept but  it’s increasing the importance of actively striving to build trust with consumers as well.

Blog posts and building trust with prospective customers

In Blogging, Authority and Trust I talk about how in order to gain access to a prospective customer’s emotional triggers you have to engender a level of “trust” with a prospective customer or client.   That level of trust begins as “trust” and can grow into “authority” with time.

In “Trusting your Gut“I shared the word picture which illustrates how the whole process of building trust works. Now I’d like to illustrate the role trust plays in social media marketing by sharing a recent person experience on how a single blog post – and the comments approved on the post – worked to build – and then destroy – the elements of trust needed to make a sale.

I was searching for software which would automate a task I perform in my business.  Since I’m going to be asking this piece of software to eliminate the need to hire an employee – I know it’s not going to be freeware.   I entered the keywords to describe the software into Google and -not surprisingly – one of the first results returned was a WordPress blog post.  In the post, the author asked his readers to share what software solutions they had used to solve the same problem I’m having.  The blog post had almost 60 comments by the time I arrived and I had high hopes that I would quickly and easily discover the software I needed.

At this point, my trust account balance with this blogger is low.  However, I’m willing to give this blog author the opportunity to earn my trust.  After all – his post is appearing first in Google, it appears he talks about issues affecting my business.

The post itself was basically fluff  – asking readers to submit the solutions they had found. I didn’t mind this – as a matter of fact, I was happy to see it.  It’s great to see how others are solving this apparently common problem.

The first few comments were apparently authentic- each of which acted like a deposit into the newly opened trust account.  Most of the authentic comments on the blog post fell along the lines of “I still use pen and paper to perform this task.”  UGH!  That’s what I’m doing now.

Notice that these are what I call the authentic responses because it was obvious that these were real readers with real businesses.    Unfortunately,  there were only about a dozen “authentic” responses – followed by about four dozen “inauthentic” responses.

There were several comments which looked authentic at first glance.  They included a photo gravatar combined with a first name – like “John” – followed by a comment which went along the lines of “we looked long and hard for an easy to use, intuitive software program to handle these tasks and were delighted to find [insert software name here].”  The comment then went on to describe the software’s benefits in glowing terms.

The problem with “John’s” comment and many others began with a simple hyperlink.  See, one way a reader “gauges” the authenticity of a comment is by following the hyperlinks in the comment.  In the case of these inauthentic “shill” comments,  when you clicked on the link to see if you could “trust” the glowing recommendation.  – surprise surprise -you would find the hyper linked went directly to the website selling the software program described in the comment.

Congratulations “John” – you garnered some weak link juice and lost the opportunity for me to even download a trial version of your software.

John and several others were obviously shill posting as a satisfied customers promoting their software solution via this blog post. This may be what some people call “social media marketing” but it’s really just spamming the comments of blog posts by posing as a satisfied customer.   It’s yet another example of a blunder in online reputation management – one that can’t be easily erased.

The moral of this story is that several software developers who tried to promote their products via shill comments lost the valuable opportunity to be “authentic” and showcase their software product to a prospective customer who was actively researching a purchase.

Instead of leveraging the power of a blog post with a #1 SERP on a valuable – albeit long tail – keyword term to capture high quality sales leads by leaving an authentic blog comment – a surprising number of software developers settled for a link with very little SEO value and absolutely no potential for real customer engagement.

This experience illustrates a lot of “blogging truths”….

  1. Leaving thoughtful comments on other blogs which add value to the conversation are a great way to get new readers for your blog.
  2. Finding blog posts which use powerful keyword phrases and leaving authentic comments is a great way to promote your product or services.
  3. Trying to “game” social media is a waste of time and energy.
  4. Trust which is quickly earned is fragile – and must be earned over time to fully develop into authority.

The best social media marketing practices begin by recognizing that social media is transparent.  Unfortunately it’s relatively easy to “stand out” from the crowd by simply being honest and telling the truth. In the blog post mentioned above, one software developer was “authentic” in his comment – sharing that he was the developer  and asking for input about his software from readers.

The web is big – and often you’ve got a limited opportunity to engage with a prospective customer.  Why would you waste it by lying and pretending to be someone you’re not?

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.