I have a friend—let’s call him Bob—who does double duty as a home repair/contractor and restaurant owner. He wants to talk to me about his web site. Bob, like a lot of small business owners starting out on the web, is dissatisfied with his web traffic. It seems to have peaked at around 300 unique visitors a month and most of this is due to referrals coming from Google. Bob tells me that some web designer he employed assured him that the “search engine optimization” techniques he implemented would eventually increase those numbers, but it’s been months and the numbers aren’t getting any better. Bob desperately wants his PageRank to increase, because, to him, that’s what’s bringing in the bacon.
Well, after hearing Bob out, I offer a solution. I explain to him about weblogs or blogs—how a lot of other organizations and successful entities like Microsoft, Mark Cuban, presidential candidates and even Donald Trump are using blogs’ unique ability to leverage influence to increase traffic and presence on the web dramatically. “Bob,” I say to him, “you need a blog.” And Bob looks at me and he shakes his head and he says, “Yeah, but that’s not my business.”
Bob didn’t get it. And that’s because Bob wasn’t sold. And he’s not alone in thinking blogging doesn’t work for small businesses. According to a recent survey by Duct Tape Marketing, “The biggest surprise for [the researcher] was the fact that a large number of respondents (60 percent) still aren’t convinced that blogs are worth the work.” The examples I gave weren’t small businesses and Bob didn’t feel he had anything in common with them nor the resources, he felt, to compete with them in the blogosphere. And the thing was, there wasn’t much I could do. I was positive blogging could help Bob out, but I didn’t have the facts nor the compelling arguments to change his mind.
And so we here at Particletree started doing the research. We’ve collected a lot of information. We’ve gathered the statistics. We’ve written down some guidelines. And we’re sharing all of it. This is for all the Bobs out there, who still don’t believe, and for all the blogging evangelists, like us, who do.
Let’s start with the numbers. According to a recent study conducted by Comscore, a research company that specializes in doing research on consumer behavior and attitudes, “50 million Americans, or about 30 percent of the total U.S. Internet population, visited blogs in Q1 2005. This represents an increase of 45 percent compared to Q1 2004.” Not only are there a LOT of people reading blogs, there’s more people reading them every single day.
In addition to the growth, the study also revealed that “the average Blog visitor viewed nearly 16,000 pages over the course of the Q1 2005 ï¿½ 77 percent more than the 9,000 pages viewed by the average Web user. The average Blog visitor spent nearly 18,000 minutes or about 23 hours per week online, while the average Internet user spent just over 10,000 minutes or 13 hours per week online.” What’s even more startling than their enthusiasm, is who these readers are. The following details are from the results of a survey conducted by Blogads:
Blog readers’ median income hover between $60,000 and $90,000
75% of blog readers are over 30 years old
75% of blog readers are men
75% of blog readers are looking for news they can’t find elsewhere.
72% of blog readers never read blogs through an RSS
“Clearly the blogosphere is crawling with certified grade A opinion makers.”
To summarize, there are a lot blog readers out there and not only are they multiplying, they’re intelligent, they have disposable income, and they’re actively looking for new information from unexpected sources longer than your average user. These readers are trendsetters, early adopters, opinion makers, news junkies and the biggest advocates of their own personal interests. If you’re a fan of the ideas behind Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point, you can immediately appreciate how valuable and rare it is it to see a single audience of people who represent the prototypical mavens, connectors and salesman that are supposedly responsible for every viral phenomenon and trend.
And for those you who need anecdotal evidence of the results blogs provide to businesses, check out what’s going on with Danali Flavors. The company specializes in creating and licensing ice cream flavors and uses its three blogs, Denali Flavors , Moosetopia and Team Moosetracks, to cover issues the company itself is dealing with, new product ideas, marketing ideas and small business issues. Their posts include practical tips, references and links to other articles. Here’s what the executive vice president had to say about their blogs’ effects:
[Blogs] have greatly helped us realize tremendous quantifiable results in terms of driving people to our main website. We’ve had an increase of 18 percent in web site visits, 10 percent more hits, and total time on the web site is up more than 26 percent. We’ve received most of our attention on Moosetopia.com, which attests to the validity of character blogs,
And the thing is, anyone can do it. Because blogging is still in its infancy, the effects are only going to increase. Although readership grew 45% last year, the majority of blog readers read less than 10 total blogs. We firmly believe this number is low, because people haven’t discovered efficient ways of processing the information overload. There are thousands of blogs created every second and thanks to RSS technology, the number blogs people are going to be able to keep up with is only going to go up. When RSS becomes a mainstream technology, current readers will only read more blogs and a new crop of voracious readers will emerge. While millions of readers looking for content should be reason enough to focus your energies on them, the importance of courting these influential, eager and financially secure readers should not be undervalued.
SEO < BLOGS
I mentioned earlier that Bob’s goal for his web site was to increase its PageRank. I can understand his logic, but I can’t see how basing your website’s promotional plan on a computer programmer’s algorithm is a very good strategy. The goals you have for your business in the real world, should be the exact same goals you have for your business on the Internet : increase sales, growth, and profits. Those are the real goals.
Some companies that offer Search Engine Optimization (SEO), they’re offering shortcuts. I think shortcuts are dangerous ideas for businesses. They only lead to trouble. In 2003, Google revamped their calculations for determining PageRank and it sent the entire SEO industry in a panic because the sites they were managing that used to be at the top of the results were now sitting behind the fifth “o” in the Google navigation at the bottom of the results.
Google’s goal is not to help those people make money. They actually spend money on fighting SEOs, not helping them. They also spent a lot of money buying the largest growing and used blogging tool out there, which should also give you something else to think about. Google knows that the moment their results aren’t solving people’s solutions or giving people answers, is the moment the people go somewhere else to find things. They have the best programmers and an army of PhDs dedicated to the problem. They’re worth billions. If you’re a small business, (putting aside the fact that these practices are morally and ethically questionable) wasting money on fighting Google might be the worst thing you could possibly do financially.
Oh and here’s another reason why you should reconsider using SEOs. Last summer, there was a contest held on the Internet to see who could get the #1 Google rank for the never before linked term “nigritude ultramarine.” Hundreds of SEO companies competed for the prize. They created link farms, tampered with metadata, comment spammed, trackback faked and implemented a hundred other sleazy tricks and optimization techniques. In the end, after all their plotting and shenanigans, it was a blogger who won the contest. He didn’t spend any money either. He just asked his friends to talk about what he was doing on their blogs. This is the power of blogs. This is what he had to say about it:
For all the back-and-forth about how Google is or isn’t evil, the end result of PageRank is that it’s a hell of a lot more work to fake your way into being a top result than it is to just have high ranking as a fringe benefit of just being a person who loves writing.
If you think about how most people are using Google (how you use Google), you should realize that people aren’t really using them to search for new businesses or ways to spend money. People search for solutions. People search for answers. People search for things to do. And blogs are the best way to help your business share its answers, solutions and things to do.
How to Approach Blogging
For a small business, a web site should always be seen as a form of publication. Jeffery Veen, one of the top Internet consultants on the web today (Google was actually one of his clients), is always surprised by the number of businesses that make this mistake.
All publications require editorial expertise. Few companies are publishing companies; most provide other kinds of goods and services. Yet over the last few years, every company has found that it must build and maintain what is essentially a constantly updated publication: a corporate Web site. Publishing is a skill set that most organizations have never needed, but one that’s integral to producing a quality site …
This is more than just a way to manage content, it’s the beginning of a content strategy— a plan for how your site will respond to your customers, inform them, and help them make decisions that will ultimately increase their loyalty to you and your site.
You’re one of a million search results approached by users with goldfish-like attention spans. How do you show them you have a quality publication on the web? Search result placement and the design of your web site are two ways to do this, but I would argue that it’s one thing to look like quality, and quite another to sound like quality. You want your customers to listen, not just stare. Blogs can give your company that voice.
Because blogs are publications of personal voices, they can provide three business functions quickly and efficiently. They provide marketing, advertising and customer relations at a fraction of the price it would cost to do so via traditional outlets. The thing to remember, though, is that you can’t use them or treat them in a traditional manner. The keyword is personal and so the rules for blogging are pretty simple. They’re EXACTLY like the rules for personal relationships.
You need to create a bond. - Don’t write entries just to sell a product. Those are just longer text ads. People want to know about you, your character, your ideas, your passions. Blog readers are savvy enough to smell an ad or public relations representative from a mile away and so you have to genuinely care about helping your readers to create any kind of connection. You want your referrals not to be computer generated, but human generated and soi don’t become random_contractor, but Bob the Contractor. What you are seeking from your customers with a blog, is a rare gift in the business world ï¿½ the benefit of the doubt. Once readers arrive, you have to keep them intrigued with unique and beneficial content. And yes, attracting new customers is more expensive than keeping current ones.
You need to be honest. - One of the nice side effects of spreading your business’s personal voice, is that it humanizes you. People are very hard on companies, but are very understanding of people. A person can make mistakes. A person can be fallible. You’d be surprised how understanding people are when they’re reminded there are people behind the scenes trying emphatically to do the right thing for both you and them. Here’s what BizInformer has to say about setting real expectations:
Customers want and deserve to know the truth about their order, restoration, and business with your company. Never cover-up for your mistakes, never tell a customer what you think they want to hear ï¿½ just be honest and sincere.
Even for the worst of news; most people can handle anything if they truly know what they’re dealing with and believe they have the information necessary to make decisions and explore alternatives. Just let your customers know what to expect and when.
You need to listen. - People want to be heard and a blog allows that communication to take place. With your blog, you are afforded the opportunity to improve customer relations through comments. Here, you can allow your company’s personality to shine by publicly dealing with complaints, comments, and recommendations. Respond to feedback with respect, openness, and honestly and you may earn another rare gift in the business world for when things go wrong—a second chance. If it’s obvious nobody is really listening to their problems, your readers will leave in a heartbeat and never come back. Great customer service will not create as much buzz or word of mouth as a great product or service will, but bad customer service leaves a nasty scar for years and years.
Providing useful content that establishes personal relationships also creates some of the strongest forms of marketing you can find on the web. According to Ben McConnell and Jackie Huba’s blog, Church of the Customer, there are three different types of people you want to forge relationships with using your business’s blog: customer evangelists, citizen marketers and word of mouth referrals.
People from all walks of life want referrals—not just the business community, but the general public as well. Few people want to choose a dentist, for example, from a printed advertisement. One nice thing about the internet is the vast number interests that are represented and so the probability is good then that you can find someone out there that’s already tried what you want to do.
People want to have more personal information before making such selections because whenever you choose a professional exclusively from an advertisement and have no other source of information, you may be taking a big risk as to the quality of service you will receive. With referrals, the risk is greatly reduced. Someone else has done business with that person and is recommending that professional to you with confidence.
If you properly manage your personal relationships with your customers, you will have a well oiled self-sufficient marketing machine. While this strategy, termed relationship marketing is not a new one, you’ll going to be light years ahead of the competition if your follow it successfully.
Blogs are a cheap and effective means to attract readers, retain customers and provide old-fashioned customer service. By offering tips, current news, and expert advice on a regular basis, your readership will grow. Current readers will not only visit more often, they’ll tell their friends of your commitment to quality. Eventually, other quality websites will link to your helpful information, send additional traffic and help you increase your PageRank. If your business uses its blog wisely and focuses on creating a unique voice that establishes personal relationships, we are positive that it’ll attract traffic your static site could never achieve.
While how to start and run your blog is beyond the scope of this article, the Particletree team would never leave you hanging without a good roundup to get you on your way. Read the following additional resources and you’ll be an expert in no time.
What makes a weblog a weblog? — Hosted by the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard Law School. At Berkman we’re studying weblogs, how they’re used, and what they are.
Guide to Business Blogging ï¿½ Made by the guys at The Blog Studio, this free pdf outlines the planning process, goal setting, choosing software/service options, writing tips, and promotional ideas. Do yourself a favor and read it.
Blogs: Small Business - It includes blogs that are written by small business for small business. Its purpose is for small business owners to find what they need without having to search all over the place and dig through oodles of categories to get to just the right nugget of information.
BlogWrite for CEO’s- The blog of Debbie Weil, author of Beginners Guide to Blogging and founder of theWordBiz Report. If you are the lone blogging evangelist at your company, she can help you make the case for blogging by delivering an informative, cogent presentation on Corporate Blogging 101 to your team.
BusinessLogs - Our fellow 9rules friends help companies communicate better with their customers through the use of weblogs and smart user interface design. It’s all good stuff. Definitely check out their free PDF whitepaper on writing for the web.
PowerBlog Reviews - “What’s the connection to a site that tracks trends? Simple. Blogging — and especially blogging about business topics — is one of the hottest trends on the Web today. We can think of no better way to track this fast-developing trend than by profiling the unique and interesting uses of the blog medium today for business purposes.”
Naked Conversations - The promising book by two corporate blogging figureheads, Robert Scoble and Shel Isreal isn’t out yet, but worth keeping an eye on.