This piece is about our golden business blogging rules based on our experience and the implementation of business blogs in the field. Once all enterprise stakeholders have understood why Web 2.0 is more than a fad and why its marketing could benefit from it (read our 12 golden rules for Web 2.0). Once they have established how their 2.0 strategy should be articulated, quite a few questions remain: how to create a professional-looking blog and how to make it known?
Golden business blogging rules to make B2B blogs successful
How long does it take every day and how many visitors may I expect? Where should my blog reside, should it be hosted, or should I put it on my corporate server?
Introductory words for our business blogging rules
What should I do so that it is well-indexed by Google and other search engines? What are the do’s and don’ts of business blogging, what are the risks… These are some of the questions that we come across most of the time concerning business blogging. In this article, we will spell out the steps which can lead to proficient business blogging, and we’ll try and address the above questions.
These pages can actually be used as business blogging guidelines for the perusal of your business blogging experts and your corporate blog managers. You can even use this as a charter (namely the do’s and don’ts chapter in part three) with which you would like them in their regular enterprise blogging exercise and also get them to agree to the rules of efficient and responsible business blogging. A lot of the material enclosed in this article is drawn from the experience of experienced bloggers and Internet writers including myself who have been working in and around the Internet for many years (13 years in my case).
A few facts and figures about business blogging
Before you delve into the particulars of this methodology and business blogging guidelines, we urge you to read the following lines, which will serve as an explanation for the rest of the document.
- Maybe 90% of B2B blogs (90 not being the actual number but a ballpark figure) attract less than 50 visitors per day. Don’t raise your expectations too high mainly if your content is not up to scratch,
- user-generated content is the era of empowered users who go on to the Internet hook up to a website and create a blog for free. Because you’re a corporation doesn’t mean that you own the best experts in the world on the subject that you want to deal with. Expect a lot from other bloggers who will have already started commenting on the subject. What about starting a journey by reading what they have done?
- Blogging success is established in the long term: it can take a few years before you reach the top 10 of your category. As a consequence, forget about these people who will tell you that blogging is easy and that collaboration is effortless. This is just not true,
- Your expertise might be outstanding, but it doesn’t necessarily follow that your blog could attract hordes of visitors. A small crowd of enthusiasts is worth a million passive users. Besides, your subject will probably be a niche subject, which is perfectly normal for expertise,
- From experience, at least 20% of blogs close within 1 1/2 years from their inception because of a lack of content or a loss of purpose. You have to hold on tight. Once again blogging success is established in the long run. Mainly if you consider that if you have many competitors today, there could be far fewer tomorrow since many of them will certainly give up,
- Writing good articles and reviews does not suffice. Quite a lot of time must be devoted to valuing the content and promoting it. The advantage of being a large organisation is that the marketing and buzz marketing can be organised by specialised teams who can free up their experts from that burden,
- Don’t do this for money; this is not the name of the game. And don’t try to sell your products this will not work, a blog is not the right forum for this kind of things,
- The quality of a blog hinges on the quality of its content, the frequency of its updates, its usability and transparency. Don’t focus on usability in the first place. Quality of content and update frequency are the main issues when you start a new blog. Transparency, however, is not an option. You have to be clear about your intentions, and your experts have to know about this (hence these guidelines) as a consequence one will have to establish a disclaimer whereby one explains that the opinions expressed in the blog are those of your experts and are not legally binding.
- Business blogging visibility is established not only through surfing but also RSS feeds. These RSS feeds are useful for your readers who want to subscribe to your content automatically. Click here for a description and explanation of RSS feeds https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/RSS_(file_format). However, RSS will not do all the work for you. Bridging the gap between your website and your blog is also a good way of bringing more visits to either of those,
- If you want your blog to be visited regularly, you will have to update it regularly. There is no future for blogs in which the latest post is older than a few days, a week at most,
- It is reckoned that if you want your blog to be visible, you have to generate at least 10 to 15 posts per month on average. Whereas it is understood that writing so many posts on your own is a challenge, building teams of people who will feed the system with information regularly is probably going to solve the problem to a large extent. While certain experts get busier at times than others having a roster of experts at the ready can actually help you avoid going through gaps in the feeding of your system.
Enterprise blogging: What’s in a blog?
Blogs are particularly interesting insofar as they are purely content orientated, they attract visitors and help build up traffic very fast, they are also easier to link to and from than a corporate website which is more geared towards selling your products, and therefore fewer people would be reluctant to link to your content if it is valuable content. The blog will also bring dynamism, RSS, interactivity, and you may even branch into a corporate blogger programme (such as the one managed by Orange business services) which would open the doors to writers from the outside (not in the short term though).
Taken at face value, entering posts on the blog is very easy. It looks like an online word processor which enables you to publish your articles and make them available online as well as manage a few options and features. However, this is a lot more complex than you think not necessarily from a technical point of view, but certainly from an Internet writing skills point of view.
With blogs, however, you do not need to be an Internet expert. And this is certainly what makes them so successful. Besides, Google and other search engines like bogs a lot, because they are dynamic and they produce a lot of content, therefore they are great if you want to beef up your search engine optimisation (aka natural indexing). Lastly, blogs are more direct than Internet corporate websites; they look less institutional and less commercial. They are ideal to start conversations. However, they also have their limitations such as lack of flexibility over how page layout can be managed and the difficulty to fine-tune the indexing for search engines (but the latter issue are less of a problem for the end-user/contributing expert).
Golden rules for Enterprise blogging: preliminary questions
First and foremost, define the purpose of your corporate blog even before you start writing the first line. What is the objective of this blog? Is it about awareness? Is it intended for you to share knowledge with the community? Is it there to show that your corporation and its experts are particularly good at something?
If you can answer any of these questions, then you should also know what and how to write in it. Of course, it is possible to maintain a blog to talk about the weather. But at the end of the day, there are very few chances that this is going to benefit your corporation.
Eventually, not only will this make your blog ineffective, but you may also run the risk of losing your management support. It is particularly advised to target your blog as if it were a standard information vehicle, through a carefully chosen niche strategy.
It is also recommended to create a blog per activity, rather than one that mixes up different subjects. This will increase the community effect and make it a lot more efficient. Think about starting small rather than launch upfront as many blogs as you have domains that you’re dealing with. It is much more desirable to have two or three successful blogs rather than a hundred, which are not. Besides, don’t forget that blogging could be time-consuming.
How much time should be devoted to that exercise? And by whom? This is probably the most crucial question. If the blog depends on an individual, then it can also become a mind-boggling question. Very often, bloggers who do this for leisure, give up after a while or once they have moved to a more time-consuming job for instance and their free time vanishes or is considerably reduced. This is one of the reasons why a lot of blogs disappear after roughly a year of activity. When it comes to business blogging, things are theoretically easier because experts are plentiful, and it is possible to pool expertise and form expert-teams so that experts aren’t all busy at the same time. One can, therefore, establish rosters for the blog to be maintained regularly by different people. Even on the open Internet, this is one of the most effectual methods which I have found to keep the blog alive in the long run.
Ideally, expert teams for business blogging should comprise six to seven bloggers, or maybe more (although it is dubious that there are going to be more than six of seven people who update the blog regularly). Should some of these experts move jobs or tire of entering posts on the blog, do not hesitate to bring in more experts and change the team. Ideally, there should be somebody in your corporation in charge of facilitating the team and helping them. Facebook bios of the experts on the ‘about’ page can also work wonders. It increases personalisation and establishes credibility. Besides, it addresses the point that the blog isn’t a flog (i.e. Fake blog, a blog written by some advertising agency or fake professionals/experts).
If you want to attract more than 50 visitors per day, at least three to four hours of work will be required every week. Once again, if you’re getting yourselves organised in expert teams, the amount of time that each individual would spend every week on the blog is going to be limited. However, it won’t have any impact on the quality and update of the information produced. A minimum of one article a week has to be delivered for the blog to exist merely, but do not expect much if you can’t produce at least three to five each week. Once again, if your team is made of six or seven high-grade experts, this should not be a real problem and should not be too time-consuming. All these people also need coordination; the corporate and marketing teams should cater to that.
Lastly, do not forget that blogging is not an end in itself, but just a means to an end. However, if it is well-managed, it can be tremendously successful concerning the objective which you have set at the beginning of your approach (see above).
Business blogging and blog post-classification
Let’s classify the type of content that you can find in a blog along with four main categories:
- Firstly, the easiest type of posts, let’s begin with those articles which contain lists of links and resources. All you have to do is to add a link to another article, a tool or other reference material, video etc. and establish a link with your activity and add a comment. Please note that articles which do not contain a personalised comment are an absolute non-starter and should be excluded at all cost. Besides, even if it is brief, any comment should contain added value to make the post worthwhile. On average, you should reckon that this type of articles will take up 30 minutes of your time,
- Secondly, it is possible to enter articles whereby your experts will comment on news or events and even possibly seminars. In the corporate world, there are a lot of these business seminars going on. My advice for this is to publish comments and notes taken during the seminars and presentations. Very often this kind of posts is very successful and brings in a lot of added-value content. Besides, other participants in the seminar event will also be using your minutes and/or linking to theirs. This is also a convenient way of enabling those people who haven’t been able to attend the event to benefit from the content which was produced at that time,
- The third type of article which you could post is those one could call reference articles, whereby you will give your expert advice and opinion. These are probably the most gratifying ones for an expert, those which would establish his/her expertise most transparently. Still, they will also be more time-consuming, and despite the quality of their content, they might not be the most successful ones. However, this paradox should not stop them from producing this kind of articles, on the contrary. Once again, do not attempt worldwide fame with niche expertise, it is much better to be well-positioned on that niche which will make you and your corporation visible in your ecosystem,
- Lastly, here is what I would entitle best practice articles. These are the ones in which experts are going to define and describe, for instance, the 10 Golden rules for doing this, that or the other, the five most common traps which you should avoid etc. They might not be the most profound of articles, but they will work wonders since online visitors are keen to find them on the Internet. This kind of article is also going to bring returning visitors, and track-backs (i.e. Other blogs linking to yours).
- Last but not least, it must be added that a good business blog should comprise a mixture of these classes of posts. The blog in which you will have only lists of resources, or reference articles, or even Best practice articles could not be very successful in the long-term.
The do’s and don’ts of Enterprise blogging and writing on the Internet in general
Writing in a blog is not very complex, but there are a few guidelines which should be respected as much as can be. This list of do’s and don’ts of Internet blog writing can be used as a Vademecum (literally in Latin ‘come with me’, a manual which you can take with you at all times) for expert Internet writers. It could also be treated as a Charter describing which rules to follow, and each expert should confirm that they have read these guidelines.
- Do not try and sell your products or services. Writing on the blog has to be natural and have to be closer to the spoken language. Avoid using cheap marketing arguments at all costs. Don’t even think about listing the qualities or benefits of your products. A blog, let alone an expert blog, is not made for this, but to establish expertise through examples,
- Publish as much as you can. The more articles you will reduce and deliver, the greater your promotion on the web. A professional corporate blog which starts will only have a few articles referenced/indexed within Google, whereas an older blog or website will already have hundreds or more,
- Avoid typos and spelling/grammar mistakes at all cost. This is a widespread mistake. A lot of bloggers think that because you’re in a hurry you don’t have to worry so much about spelling or grammar. But this is a nasty habit. Mainly if you have a corporate blog and you are projecting a corporate image. The writing has to be natural, which doesn’t mean that it has to be bad. And if your articles are very pertinent and interesting but badly written, you will attract many impertinent and unpleasant comments on this. Being a corporation also helps as it should enable you to get others to proofread your text. However, I strongly recommend that you avoid rewriting expert text to give a communications flavour to it. This would be very unbecoming,
- A proper layout is essential. It is advised to use Microsoft Word or another word processor to check your spelling. However, if you copy and paste text from Word into the blog, I would recommend that you start copying it into notepad first to clean the text from all unnecessary Microsoft word formatting. Another way of doing this is to use Firefox and its very convenient language packs which enable you to check your spelling directly into the entry box of your blog,
- Keep your articles brief. Blogs are not for long articles. Websites are more adapted for very lengthy articles. However, you could still post a large article on a blog and then use the “read more” function, which will break up the text into different pages to make the reading easier. It is also possible to break up your article into several instalments, which will have the advantage of forcing your users and visitors to return to the blog,
- Straight to the point. You had rather publish small or medium-sized articles 2 to 3 times a week than one or two large in-depth ones per month. You can also choose to publish your articles in instalments; it’s a good idea if you want to have returning visitors. Google likes it when the frequency of updates on your blog is high because it will entice its bots (the technical name for the search engine indexing robots that come and index your pages) to visit your blog more often… and your visitors too!
- Use summaries and bullet points to maximise on-screen readability. Don’t hesitate to add a downloadable pdf file for readers who wish to print out your stuff and read it,
- Keyword presence in titles, tags, categories and page copy. First 10 lines are most important. Use emphasis to highlight important keywords.
- Headlines are taglines! Here are some recommended titles for your posts. Once more, think about your important keywords, because they should be found in your titles:
- X tips and tricks to improve your corporate security, etc.
- X tips and tricks to reach 50% benefit/ROI, reap X million $, etc.
- X things you should know/do before …
- X steps/golden rules to achieve …
- Golden rules for Excellence in …
- Do’s and don’ts of this or the other.
- Check-list for …
- X tools to improve your Internet/Corporate network security etc.
High update frequency doesn’t mean your experts should write only for the sake of it. A list of topics has to be prepared in advance to ensure that quality will be maintained throughout the life of your expert corporate blog. Don’t hesitate to quarantine articles which you think are not up to scratch by leaving them in the draft list and updating them later
Propose subjects which link to other popular subjects to attract new visitors, i.e. even those who wouldn’t normally be interested in it. But avoid entering posts unrelated to your main objective or topic at all cost. Not only would that be irrelevant, but it could also be damageable for your brand.
Use the so-called ‘keyword fragmentation bomb technique’ by adding synonyms and varying keywords and titles. This will increase your chances of being found and read. I.e. if your subject is about security, ensure that not just the security keyword is present but also others such as intrusion, Trojan, encryption, hacking, network protection, data integrity etc.
To make it easy for your experts to feed your newly created corporate blog, your experts should get themselves organised to produce as much content as possible regularly. To this end and recommend that you set up a wiki website for them to keep track of the list of articles that they should write, who does what, at what time, and also when it is going to be published. As a matter of fact, if you need to deliver many an article, it is probably a good idea that you get your experts to write quite a few of them in advance to ensure that the source will not run dry and also to avoid putting too much pressure on the writers. Lastly, if you have blogs in multiple languages, and if some of the content on either of these languages bears relation to the other blogs in other languages in terms of context, then I would recommend that you use translation services to make your teams benefit from the content that other teams have written. Do not overestimate the usability of a particular content which is made available in a particular language for another. As a matter of fact, translation is not sufficient, you would also need to adapt the context of the original post to make it relevant, and only experts can deliver that. Use translation services for the first-cut translation and then send the text to your experts so that they can adapt it and change it to their heart’s content.
Create the event and bring interactivity. You could, for instance, organise contests whereby you’re asking your readers to write posts and submit them to you so that you would give them an ability to be published on your blog. You could also ask your readers to vote for some of your articles. Contests and suchlike would generate visits an increase in reader loyalty,
Be careful about those pictures! Don’t believe that if an image can be picked up easily from the Internet (via Google images, for instance), you would be to use it freely on your blog. This is not true, and if you’re working for a big logo, you should be aware that using an image for which you haven’t got the rights would make your company liable for damages. Conversely, I do not recommend either that you use images from the corporate standard database because they don’t give an expert look to the blog but instead make it look like advertising, and this is not consistent with the tone of voice of an expert blogging exercise. Illustrations would do nicely, but more importantly functional and business diagrams, preferably user and expert generated, because they will add to the professionalism of the blog, its readability and the overall understanding. Mainly if your subject is technical, as the saying goes, ‘a picture is worth a thousand words’, but remember that it’s only true if image usage is right. Professional image databanks (such as Getty or Corbis for instance) are serious about that, and rightfully so. If you want to include an image and your company doesn’t own its own image database, and you want to add professional-looking illustrations to it then I would recommend that you use online image databanks like http://www.fotolia.com,
Bad language should be avoided at all cost, needless to say. Any form of defamation, strong language, criticism, or even downright critical opinion of a competitor, partner, and/or co-worker or peer is just unthinkable. It means that you will have to understand and practise how to deliver interesting and professional opinions without criticising others. Be very careful about that, because writing anything on the Internet leaves traces. And you don’t want these traces to be bad ones. In other words, you have to be careful about the directness of your Internet writing. It has to remain interesting and straight to the point, but not too much. It’s a bit like walking between two walls; the left one is the boundary beyond which Internet writing becomes uninteresting and bland, and there is no value. The right one is the limit beyond which too much is said, and could be used against you too. Each expert must adhere to rule number 15.
about third party products/companies. Following rule number fifteen, do not conclude, however, that you should avoid commenting on other products and any company. Yet, you should ensure that these comments are based on facts and numbers, serious and professional. They should also be proven and undeniable, or otherwise, they should open the debate fairly and openly. Once again, strong language against third party products and all companies should be avoided at all cost,
About comments, freedom of speech, openness and pragmatism. With business blogging, comments, or rather the fear of receiving comments about one’s Internet writing is usually the source for paranoia. Usually, it’s not so much the experts who are paranoiac, but their management. To an extent, it is normal since it is difficult for management to assess the level of risk which is associated with these external comments. However, if your subject is a niche subject that is really professional and b2b orientated, the main issue they will come across is not that related to having fierce comments, but that of having too few comments or even any at all. Secondly, you have to make freedom of speech in your comment available. If it is not open, and it is not free, then it will show, and your blog will be so bland that it will attract no visitors and no interest. A little debate is a good thing, and you mustn’t be afraid of other experts or professionals, even ordinary readers voicing their opinion. After all, if somebody disagrees with what is said, doesn’t possibly mean that it’s true. So don’t panic, be open and pragmatic. At the other end, corporate blog managers should ensure that all comments are moderated. Openness and freedom of speech don’t mean that you shouldn’t control anything. This moderation feature would protect you and your management from trouble, and it should be enabled. However, moderation doesn’t mean censorship. Only moderate these posts which contain strong language, if your blog content filter hasn’t catered for this already. Delete strong language and comments which are not adding anything to the debate. At the end of the day, having quality comments on your posts is also adding to the quality of the posts themselves, having bad quality comments is withdrawing value from your posts.