Monday 24 Dec 2007
Greetings from inside the SEOigloo,
Several times in the last month, I’ve found myself explaining to potential clients the difference between a website and a blog. To some, the answer may seem old hat, but I like to get back to the basics whenever I can here on the SEOigloo Blog so that I’m making sure to address folks at all stages of developing their web skills and knowledge.
The funny thing about this question is that, rather than the answer becoming clearer as time goes by, lines seem to be getting more blurry. Technically, you could use a blogging application like WordPress to build an entire website, and similarly, a highly skilled programmer could turn their whole website into a blog, from scratch, if they wanted to. RSS feeds, Social Media, Forums and Chat Rooms seem to blend in and out of the is it a website or is it a blog question. But let’s take a look at traditional definitions to get started here, and let’s consider how these two different forms of media are of use to the small business owner.
A Traditional Website
A website is a publishing format. Using HTML, PHP, ASP or whatever language the developer likes best, a website consists of a page or series of pages which feature information about your business, information about your products, the ability to contact you via forms, other contact information, the ability to shop on your site in the case of an e-commerce business, customer testimonials, FAQs, and just about anything your business can think to say about itself. The website exists to announce the existence and nature of a business, and can also serve as a vehicle for business transactions such as sales, donations, etc.
On the user’s end, a traditional website functions as a presentation of the facts and offerings of your business, with interaction generally being limited to shopping or contacting you. On a more complex traditional website, additional opportunities might be provided for user activity by enabling the ability to vote in polls, leave reviews of products, leave testimonials or some other type of feedback – often styled UGC (user generated content). To date, however, the ‘conversation’ on the majority of traditional websites has been largely one-sided. And then, blogs came along…
Blogs – the true conversation
One of the key benefits of having a blog is its power to move your company’s web efforts from merely presentational to truly conversational. When you write articles on your blog (called blog posts) everyone who reads them has a chance to respond via the comments form at the bottom of each blog post. As you can see on our own blog, here, you can write back to me, ask me questions, share your wisdom with me, give me feedback about my article and my company.
Blogs have made it simple for businesses to make an easy and direct connection with their public, and in addition to being an invaluable way to gauge what your customer base cares about, a blog is a wonderful way to put a personal, caring, responsive face on your business. Blogs are both a marketing tool and a public relations tool. They are a way to build brand loyalty and to develop lasting business relationships that can extend your reach and increase your bottom line.
In addition to giving you an easy platform for publishing whatever is relevant to your business and interesting to your readership, the second powerful use of the blog is as a networking tool. Once you start blogging, your next task should be to begin locating other blogs in your industry – perhaps not direct competitors, but related businesses. Become a daily reader of these other blogs, comment on them, get to know the blogger, and you are well on your way to joining the big conversation in your industry. Your efforts in this can lead to increased publicity, nifty incoming links and other great perks for your company. Every time you chat on someone else’s blog, it’s an invitation for them to come on over to where you are, talk to you, bring their own readership along with them and bring new attention to the fact that you and your blog exist.
Some industries are going to be more conducive to the ‘big conversation’ environment than others. Because I work in a technology-type industry, there are literally thousands of blogs I could be reading every day. My current count of preferred blogs is more like 25, and as time has gone by, I’ve developed relationships with many of may favorite bloggers. I often write about neat things they’ve published, and they, in turn, have been kind enough to write about me and link to me from time to time. In the midst of sharing ideas, we are also sending notice and business to one another, and that’s what the big conversation is all about. There’s a very good chance you can make this happen in your own industry, as blogs have become so common for such a wide variety of industries.
So, the uses of the blog are many, and the potential for on-going, longterm interaction with both customers and colleagues is fantastic. No wonder the blogging platform has become so popular over the past couple of years!
How Do Blogs Work?
Though you could technically build a blog from scratch, most folks go with the terrific open source blogging platforms made available by great organizations like WordPress. Other well-known blog providers are Blogger and Typepad. Obtaining a blog from any of these companies is free – truly a cool thing, eh?
You’ve got 2 main options when it comes to getting a blog. The first is to set up a blog on the provider’s free hosting. In that case, your URL (your www, also called your domain name) would read something like this:
The name of the blog provider appears as part of your address because you are being given a free subdomain by them.
The second option, and the one we strongly urge you to go with, is to purchase your own web hosting and your own domain name so that your blog is sitting on your property – not on a subdomain of the blog provider. This will allow you to have a domain that looks like this:
That’s certainly going to be an easier address for your readers to remember, and owning your own domain name is one of the most important things you can do for your business.
The cost for a domain and hosting is minimal – figure about $15/yr. to own your domain and less than $100 a year for basic hosting for your blog through most regular domain registrar and hosting companies. It’s a small yearly investment to make for the peace of mind of knowing that your name belongs to you and is not tied in with any other company’s unknown future.
We are devoted WordPress fans so I can speak about this subject with most comfort. To get a free WordPress subdomain, you’d be going to WordPress.com and registering for one of the subdomain blogs. But, I hope you’ll make the stronger choice of purchasing your own domain and hosting and then going to WordPress.org and getting a free blog there that you can set up on your own property.
The purpose of this post is not to go into detail about how you set up or customize a blog, but the basic steps involved in the process go like this:
1) Set up a database on your hosting (you must have linux hosting to host your WordPress blog)
2) Download the WordPress software from wordpress.org
3) Upload the software to your hosting server
4) Run the installation program via the instructions given to you by WordPress
5) Once you’ve installed the blog, you can use the generic theme (the look and format) provided by WordPress, or you can choose a different theme by going to a site like this one
6) At this point, if you know CSS (which controls the style of documents), you can set about fully customizing the theme you’ve chosen to use for your blog. If you don’t feel up to that yet, you can simply use one of the themes as-is.
There are thousands of ready-made WordPress themes to choose from, and you’ll be making choices not only of color and style, but also of options like a 2 column or 3 column layout, and the inclusion of widgets like calendars, advertising units and other interesting possibilities.
When your blog is setup, you will also be exploring the backend dashboard (the place you go to write your posts) and customizing things like your About page, the way your blog accepts comments, and settings to protect you from spam. We strongly recommend installing Akismet on your blog to defend you from the unfortunate oodles of spam that blogs are subjected to. And that brings us to our next important consideration.
In addition to coping with the issue of downright spam which is easy to spot because of its nonsense language, generally bogged down with links pointing to icky websites you don’t want to know exist, the blog owner needs to be prepared to deal with all-comers to his/her blog.
Your hope is to make connections with super, smart, polite folks through your blog, and part of that relationship may involve criticism of your writing, your opinions or your business, given in a helpful tone. Sometimes, however, the tone may not be pleasant. You have the option to delete any comment you don’t like, but think twice before you do this. Making the decision to blog means opening the floor for others to comment. If users correct you, admonish you, or simply tell you about a bad customer experience or dissatisfaction of some kind, your best choice is usually going to be to respond to such comments with speed and concern.
I can’t count the times I’ve watched adept bloggers deal with criticism in a way that ended up making their company look even better and more responsive than ever. What looks bad is when the blog owner strikes back with a defensive, nasty or petty reply. The best bloggers rise above any hurt pride they may have, and see negative feedback as a way to learn more about how to please their readership.
Necessarily, this means that if your company intends to use a blog as a means of promoting customer relations, you need to have a plan in place about who will respond to difficult comments and how such comments will be handled. Try to resist the urge to bury criticism on your blog – there’s nothing quite so damaging as being accused of censorship! Better to act with tact and try to turn a negative situation into a positive one by showing your willingness to talk. On the other hand, it’s crucial that you draw a line in the sand for yourself between constructive criticism and vulgar abuse. No one should have the right to abuse you because you blog.
Just as your readers are free to say whatever they like on your blog, you are free to speak your mind on the industry blogs you visit. Bear in mind that what you say is going to reflect on you and your business. It would be a foolish plan to go make nasty remarks on a competitor’s blog. Everyone will be able to click on your username and end up back at your place and will not think well of you for such conduct.
There are finer degrees of your image as a public commenter you need to consider, too. You need to determine what types of things you are willing to discuss in public. For example, while you may be willing to share a funny story about a silly mishap at work, you might not want to make a seething complaint about what pains-in-the-neck your company’s clients are. Because everything you say on your blog and on the blogs of others is public, speak in a way that reflects well on your company’s professionalism.
Lastly, don’t abuse the comments fields of other business’ blogs. The moment you seriously start promoting any website or blog on the Internet, you discover that having links point to you is one of the key metrics that determines your search engine rankings. So, yes, you need to get links, but don’t get them by dropping links to yourself on other people’s blogs. This is a spamming tactic that no smart blogger tolerates and it’s something I see novice business owners do because they don’t realize how bad it looks and how much ill will it creates. Focus on getting backlinks on the merit of the great posts you publish on your blog. Link dropping on blogs, forums and social media sites only makes your business look uniformed and desperate!
In the end, blogging is supposed to generate community. Being a good neighbor is a good rule of thumb in this environment, and thinking before you speak (publish) is a wise habit when you’re in public, right?
Should You Have a Blog or a Website?
The answer to this depends entirely on your unique business model. If your intention is simply to publish reading materials, a straight, traditional blog may just fill the bill. Additionally, software like WordPress can be used to develop whole websites because it is so easy to customize. One of the key benefits of going this route is that blogs come with a built-in content management system (CMS) so the business owner has a very easy way to update their own content. At this point, the most common projects for us seem to be developing both a traditional website and a blog in conjunction with one another. This gives the client the best of both worlds, as we see it, and we customize their blog to match the rest of their website nicely so that the experience is very fluid for the end user. This has been an especially good solution for our e-commerce clients. Though there is currently talk of an e-commerce plug-in for WordPress, it appears to be in the works rather than quite ready to use. The development of this plug-in may change the way we do business – we may become even bigger fans of WordPress than we already are!
Blogs and websites are tools. Just like a book is the medium via which an author presents his story, a blog or website is simply a platform for you to use in a way that serves your business and your clientele best. I hope that the above has helped you feel a step closer to making an informed decision about your options, and if you have specific questions about this subject, I hope you’ll comment here.