Monday, October 09, 2006

Blogs Put Businesses on Web Search Map

Hunting for ways to boost revenue, a growing number of small businesses are adding another weapon to their marketing arsenal: blogging.

A blog lures more traffic to a company's website because it improves chances the site will reach the top of search-engine results. Blogs are easier and cheaper to update than conventional sites. And they encourage customer feedback on new products and services.

"Every company needs a blog,'' says Brian Brown, a self-employed blogging consultant at Pajama Market in Janesville, Wis., who has reviewed dozens of small-business blogs.

There are now millions of blogs, with an estimated 70,000 created daily.

Short for "Web log," blogs are online diaries with links to other websites and blogs. Most allow readers to post comments, making them more interactive than traditional websites, says Andy Wibbels, author of Blog Wild! A Guide for Small Business Blogging.

Sign-maker Joseph Iles, 37, has been blogging for two years at his Lincoln Sign Co. in Lincoln, N.H. And he's already seen a payoff. Iles attributes $33,000 in sales last year, or about 10% of total revenue, to customers he found through his Signs Never Sleep blog.

"If you can send an e-mail, you can do a blog," he says. "It's simple."

--- New small businesses spotlight products and get customer feedback

Blogs that got high marks from small-business blog consultant Brian Brown of Pajama Market in Janesville, Wis.:

Freewheel Bike, Minneapolis

Bike retailer founded in 1974, with 10 to 40 employees, depending on season. Blogging for two years.

Blog address: http://freewheelbike.com/page.cfm?PageID=121

What Brown likes: Variety of entries is good, with stories about employees and items on fixing bikes.

What Freewheel says: General manager Mike Roering and four other employees write entries showcasing the store's special bicycles. Customers have ordered bikes they saw on the blog. An employee attending this year's Tour de France wrote about the experience.

Lincoln Sign Co., Lincoln, N.H.

Sign shop started in 1972. Six employees. Blogging for two years.

Blog address: http://www.signsneversleep.typepad.com/

What Brown likes: Generous number of photos. Headlines are among the best-written Brown has seen.

What Lincoln says: The blog lets customers see how signs are made. Plus, co-owner Joseph Iles says writing about his shop caused him to think more about bolstering customer service. He writes all entries and takes all the photos, spending an average of 30 minutes a day on it.

Mani's Bakery Cafe, Los Angeles

Bakery started in 1988. About 40 workers. Blogging for 14 months.

Blog address: http://www.manisbakery.com/blogcafe/

What Brown likes: Frequent and varied entries such as recipes, diet advice and stories about employees and customers. It's well-organized, with easy-to-find search box and a place for readers to leave comments.

What Mani's says: Eight employees write entries, taking turns on a weekly schedule. The blog boosted revenue. But it was mostly created to give customers a place to offer feedback, says co-owner Carl Avery. --- 4 QUESTIONS What software do I use?

There are dozens of programs, says Andy Wibbels, author of Blog Wild! A Guide for Small Business Blogging. Google and others offer inexpensive, sometimes free, versions, including Blogger, TypePad, Movable Type and WordPress.

Who contributes to the blog?

The author can be the owner, an employee or several employees. In any case, contributors must write well and -- most important -- show they care about the company.

"It's that passion that wakes people up," Wibbels says. It tells readers: "There's a real person on the other side of the world who works there."

Some companies assign the blog to the marketing department or an outside publicist. That's risky if the writer fails to create the more casual tone that blog readers expect.

Consultant Brian Brown estimates that of the 80 small-business blogs he's reviewed, 80% are written by one person, usually the owner.

What should I write about?

A little bit of everything. A restaurant chef could reveal how she created a new dish. A dog trainer might write about a customer's frustrations living with a new puppy.

Good blogs are varied in subject and length of entries. "It's this crazy idea that maybe you should talk to your customers like your friends," Wibbels says.

How often should I write?

A new entry, or "post," each day would be terrific. If that's too ambitious for business owners juggling multiple responsibilities, Brown recommends at least three posts a week. Readers are more likely to return to a blog if they find fresh material. Plus, one of a blog's main functions is adding pages to a company's otherwise static website. Sites with lots of pages and many incoming and outgoing links are more likely to appear near the top of search-engine results.

Small Business Connection

It's a monthly series about managing small companies. Earlier installments at www.smallbiz.usatoday.com/ Got an idea? E-mail USA TODAY's Jim Hopkins at jhopkins@usatoday.com.

Join the conversation about small-business management on our Small Business Connection blog at http://smallbizblog.usatoday.com/ Posts you'll see this week:

"We have considered starting a blog, and undoubtedly will within the next six months or so. I recognize the value of blogs to help people find my website."

--Suzanne Hetts, co-owner, Animal Behavior Associates, Littleton, Colo.

"A blog would have to be tremendously entertaining for our customers or employees to bother reading it."

Source: USA Today, SEP 20, 2006

1 Comments:

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