Many things hold people back from blogging: fear of writing; fear of weaknesses being exposed; fear of peoples’ reactions to your beliefs. At the top of the list is fear of being ridiculed. How many times have you hit the “publish” button terrified of what people will think or say?
Negative blog comments can destroy the confidence of all but the most experienced blogger – and they can knock the wind out of the sails of the best of us. In all the time I’ve been blogging, I’ve received two of what I would describe as negative comments. That’s out of almost 1,000 comments. I can’t say I’m plagued by negative comments then, but I hope I’ve learnt from my own experiences and that these thoughts are helpful. Here’s my own checklist:
1 What’s the spirit of the comment? Do you sense the commenter is being constructive or are they being downright negative and unconstructive? If unconstructive, hindsight tells me now to simply not publish the comment. Remember: it’s your blog, you are in control! If you don’t want to publish that comment, well – don’t do it.
2 How does the comment sit with you? OK, so they might not be singing your praises, but if it’s said constructively, is likely to spark some debate and you’re happy with it, publish and come back with your own response.
3 Take time to construct an objective, balanced response that addresses the points the commenter has made. Avoid getting personal or emotive!
Most of all, remember that most of us are blogging to win more business. If the comment is untrue and likely to undermine your professionalism – don’t publish it. Let me give you an example.
Some months ago I published a post about a website we’d created for a client. I was pretty excited about it and was enthusing in the post. Reading back I can see that I was probably a bit too excited, which could have been perceived as being cocky. Perhaps I wound the commenter up…
Anyway, he commented to tell me that the site was dreadfully coded for mobiles and a couple of other points. At the time I thought – constructive comments. Let’s publish them and look into them and come back with a measured response. The fact was that on investigation, all of his points were utterly without substance and untrue. We responded and never heard from him again. At the time I felt I was doing the right thing showing that we could take the criticism.
But was it the right thing to do? I’m not sure. The negative commenter had undermined a small part of our credibility, however credible our response. And at the end of the day, this was our blog! A few days later, with the comment still praying on my mind, I unpublished the comment along with my responses to him. And I felt that the world was a better place.
Now I’m not suggesting that there’s not a place for constructive criticism – we actively encourage feedback. But there’s a difference between constructive criticism and unconstructive criticism. Sometimes you need a little time to spot the difference.
Have you heard of ‘trolls’? It’s when someone deliberately leaves an inflammatory comment to cause mayhem. They’re not always easy to spot but when deciding what comment to publish on your blog, remember, not all comments are left in the constructive spirit you might hope.
Finally, remember – you reap what you sow. If you drift around other peoples’ blogs peppering them with negative and unconstructive comments, you can expect the same in return. Take the time to sow some constructive and positive comments and you’ll see the benefits in return.
Fiona Humberstone, Flourish design & marketing
Most of us realise that great design can win us more business. And many of us invest in professional graphic design for our brochures, leaflets and website.
But what about the rest? What about that PowerPoint presentation you send to clients? How about leaflets you take to networking events? What about the checklist for businesses you’ve uploaded to your website?
If we accept that great design will engage, inspire and build trust with your customers (existing and prospective), what effect do you think bad design will have? You probably don’t need me to spell it out…
Many businesses design things in house. Even marketing executives at big blue chips design some pieces of collateral. And there’s nothing wrong with that. It can save time and money. But it’s those bits of collateral – your leaflet, your PowerPoint, your case studies or your self-designed blog – that can undermine your professionalism.
The bad news is that usually people don’t realise there is anything wrong with their designs. Oversized logos compete with standard colours and standard fonts to create a look that jars with all your well-produced work. The result? Your clients are confused and lack conviction in you.
It’s unrealistic to expect you to use a graphic designer for every piece of communication you produce, but you can learn some simple graphic design rules that you can apply to everything you do. And you can reduce the gap between the professionally produced stuff and your own stuff.
Do a bit of research into what makes design work. Read magazines, books (Robyn Williams’ The Non-Designer’s Design Book is excellent) and learn important from designs that inspire you. You can also find advice here on the Donut sites, too, of course.
Fiona Humberstone, Flourish design & marketing
Blogging has many benefits. It will help you build relationships with your clients and prospective clients. It enables you to demonstrate your expertise and helps you gain immediate feedback on an idea. And done correctly, you’ll also gain targeted leads. Oh, and the traffic you receive from your fabulous content will also help you in the search rankings.
There’s a reason I added SEO (search engine optimisation) as an afterthought – it’s because it should be when it comes to blogging. SEO is a nice outcome from a good blog – not the reason for its being.
At a recent blogging workshop I ran, a large chunk of our audience was motivated to blog because of the perceived SEO benefits. They felt that if they could manipulate their blog to bring them in thousands of visitors, that would have a positive impact on their website. I’m delighted to report that by the end of the day they all felt different.
Your blog will receive thousands of visitors if the content is great, if it looks good and you post regularly. You’ll build up a following of loyal readers who will recommend your blog to their friends and where it features in the search engines will be but a distant memory. You’ll be generating enough business from the blog that it won’t matter.
Recently, I stumbled upon a blog that had clearly been contrived to provide search traffic for the writer’s business. It was an imagery-based website and the images were gorgeous. Sadly, I felt a little “used” because the writer clearly wasn’t writing for my benefit, she was writing for the search engines. She’d clearly handpicked a couple of search terms (and no, I won’t tell you what they are). Every blog title was pumped full of these keywords. And scrolling down the list I could see this wasn’t a one off, this was a search engine optimisation onslaught.
Imagine this blog, full of lovely images but pumped full of keywords that mean very little in relation to the post they’re describing. How would you feel as you were reading it? Like a valued reader who just had to return to see what said company had been up to or a little used and worthless that the point of the blog was simply to scramble the website up the search rankings?
There’s an art to using your blog to gain traffic and pumping your titles and posts full of “clever” keywords. I’m not suggesting that it won’t work from an SEO point of view – I’m sure it does. But my point is that this isn’t a blog.
A blog is your chance to journal what’s going on in your world. It enables you to showcase your expertise, build relationships and generate profitable business. Make the most of the opportunity: if you don’t, your competitors certainly will.
Fiona Humberstone, Flourish design & marketing
You have put together your business plan, your competitor and customer research and written your marketing plan. Hands up who thought about the simple matter of a domain name or a website?
“It doesn’t matter,” some of you will say, because you aren’t going to be selling anything online, but where do you think more than 90 per cent of the UK population now looks for information on a business? The days of flicking through Yellow Pages for a local plumber are long gone. Nowadays, people use their PCs or their smartphones to see who is local – and what other people have been saying about them. Would you buy anything from Ebay if the seller had 100 per cent negative feedback? Exactly. The same is true of any business today. People will want to know who you are and the first place they will go to find out is online.
So, setting up a website is complicated, time consuming and expensive right? Not at all. Anyone can build a website now, thanks to simple tools available freely online.
Every business should have a website, even if it’s a simple one-pager saying who you are, what you do and how people can contact you, it’s a start. Your website is your most vital employee, one that can work for you 24/7, 365 days a year, across the globe. It’s your virtual shop, one where you can communicate to your potential clients and they can communicate back with you.
So where do you start? Well, getting a domain name is your most important step. A simple domain name check will give you the answers to what is available. And for as little as £4.99 per annum you can take the first step in protecting your burgeoning brand online.
Remember, domain names are unique, which means once you have it, no one else can. So immediately you have a competitive advantage and you can start thinking about how you will take over the world. Well, maybe just your town or city for starters…
Stuart Fuller is the Business Manager for Nordic Region & Online Markets (UK & Denmark) at Easily.co.uk. He is an expert on websites and Internet services.
Without a doubt, contributing to a blog requires commitment and time if it is to produce effective results. However, making use of blogs is an easy, fast, inexpensive and effective publishing tool to spread the word about a new business, generate customers and increase prospects.
Blogs are corporate tools that allow businesses to communicate with the public to provide information about products and services being provided. To be effective as an advertising tool, the blog should be linked to the company website and provide relevant web content about the company’s products to attract prospective customers. To grow a blog, it should be updated consistently in order to include new and ongoing entries. Investing in blog advertising is a rewarding endeavour but it needs to be sustained in the long term.
Blogs provide the following four key benefits when promoting a business:
Content marketing is a method of promotion designed to attract customers by providing valuable content about the business, products and services that it offers. Rather than being a brazen and overt marketing strategy, content marketing takes the form of publishing content that delivers information through important articles, press releases and news feeds. This approach treats established and potential customers as intelligent individuals. Content marketing provides accurate, honest and relevant information that consumers need to know before purchasing products and services. There is no better place for content marketing than on a blog.
Selecting and streamlining news feeds from credible industry news sources and linking them to blogs will keep interested readers returning to blog pages on a regular basis. It also prompts viewers to return to the blog for news updates which secures repeat viewers and potential customers. It is best to integrate a credible news feed with other non-competitive website links which subtly promote and advertise the business. Adding neutral, industry relevant, and credible news feeds and web content allows the business to present itself as a knowledgeable and accurate source of information in its respective market.
Setting up a blog on Wordpress, Gizmodo, and Compendium is a free alternative to having actual web presence. Blogs can be linked to other social networks, such as Twitter and Facebook, to attract potential clients. Blogs provide an effective way for small businesses to share their expertise and offer press releases in a larger market to bigger audiences. They are user-friendly tools especially for business owners who know little about HTML.
Setting up blogs with opportunities to moderate and answer questions and comments from clients presents a human face of an enterprise and allows a business to speak directly with clients and address their concerns. No company can expect to be an industry leader without an authentic and ongoing interaction with its customers.
Blogs are search engine magnets, directing not only curious bloggers to business landing pages, but also regular and targeted traffic from Google searches. Search engines crawl content and keyword rich blog sites, bringing the blog (and business landing page) closer to the top of page ranks.
When composing blogs, be sure to make your contact information clear and make navigation easy to help convert views to sales.
Dani Higginson, Purecontent
We’ve been creating a lot of blogs for people recently, and I often must sound like a broken record in briefing meetings due to my insistence that bloggers work with a good photographer to get a professional headshot.
I can’t tell you the difference it makes.
Let’s start with the presumption that a good headshot will make you look your most attractive, professional and approachable. By attractive I don’t mean sleazy or sexy or like you’ve just stepped off a boudoir shot. I’m talking about a photograph that strokes your ego and makes you proud. But it also needs to look like you.
Before I met Matt Pereira my headshot was a picture I’d had taken in a studio in Birmingham several years before. I was one of the female entrepreneurs invited to take part in a cover shoot for a franchise magazine. They had hired a make-up artist and after several hours (I kid you not) primping and preening, we were wheeled out into the studio where we were draped over a chaise longue . To get us used to the camera, the photographer initially took headshots of us on a bar stool. I looked attractive but nothing like myself. I limped on with this photograph for several years but I had to laugh when I met the lovely Shelley van Lit from the Elmbridge magazine at an Elmbridge Women in Business event I was speaking at. Shelley said to me “I’ve been looking at your website today, I wanted to meet you. You look nothing like your photo! I wouldn’t have recognised you if you hadn’t introduced yourself”. That was me told.
Fortunately a couple of weeks later, I had the most gorgeous shots taken by Matt and I’ve never looked back. Like I said, a good photographer will take photos of you that actually look like you. But they’ll be of your best self. He or she will capture the essence of you and present you as someone people want to get to know. A good social media photograph has got to be engaging and approachable. And so that means eyes to camera, smiling and saving those sexy pouts for the boudoir shoots.
And a good headshot isn’t just about helping you appear more engaging in your social media profile. It’ll also help your website and blog appear more attractive.
So next time you think you’ll just upload that holiday snap from two years ago, think again. Find a great photographer and get some professional headshots done. It will pay dividends.
Fiona Humberstone, Flourish design & marketing
Have you seen Julie and Julia? It’s a heart-warming (read cheesy rom-com if you’re a cynic) tale of a downtrodden woman in a dead-end depressing job who wants to make something of her life. She’s tired of her over-achieving friends looking down on her career and one day, decides to blog her experience of cooking all 575 Julia Charles recipes.
There’s a classic moment in the film when, on the verge of a nervous breakdown (or meltdown as she calls them) Julie is wondering why on earth she’s bothering, and whether anyone is even reading her. Then she gets her first comment… except it’s from her mother, asking if she’s the only one reading this and when she’s going to give it all up and start behaving like a wife.
Of course it all ends happily ever after. Julie gains an enormous following, she is inundated with calls from book agents, she’s now a writer AND she gets a film deal. Wow! That’s some happy ending.
When you start blogging (and even when you’ve been doing it for a while) it’s easy to worry about who, exactly, is reading you. Is anyone visiting your blog? Do they like what you have to say? Is it adding any value to your business or your life?
I remember talking to Karen Skidmore a few years back. She always used to have such vibrant conversations happening on her blog, and I’d be lucky to get a comment a quarter.
Karen told me that they’d start to happen. And once they started to happen that they’d snowball. And she was right. Although it took a little longer to figure things out than I’d hoped. Comments, retweets and people stopping me at a networking event to say that they love my blog is the ultimate validation for me that the hours I spend blogging are doing something. That I’m not just talking to my mum and dad through this blog, but that there are real people out there enjoying and benefitting from what I have to ramble on about.
And when I get new clients because they’ve been following my blog for a few months and love what we’re doing, that’s great. In fact, it’s more than great, it’s now a core part of my marketing strategy.
But how do you get your blog to a point where you have regular readers, subscribers and your blog has a real presence?
I think there are lots of factors. Design is key, think about blogs like decor8, designsponge or some of the foodie blogs I like to read such as Sweet Paul. The photography and design is utterly gorgeous – people keep coming back for the inspiration and escapism these blogs provide.
Content is king, but there’s more to a blog that people want to read than good content. We’re suffering from information overload. If your blog looks dull, it doesn’t matter what you’re saying, your readers are going to think your blog is dull. And it doesn’t matter how compelling your post, they’re likely to forget you. As people start to comment more you’ll be able to suss out what they want to know about.
When I started blogging I didn’t post much on what we’d been up to in the studio. I thought it would be too boastful, that people wouldn’t want to read about it. But actually, the more ‘In the Studio this Week’ posts I wrote, the more comments I received. Of course, I always make sure I intersperse with some “how tos” as well, or it would just turn into one massive online portfolio.
Your writing style also has an influence. I’ve found that the more I let my emotions loose in a blog, the more comments and dialogue I seem to gain. And uber-bloggers like Holly Becker seem to do the same.
One of the things that’s revolutionised my blog more than anything is my use of Twitter. By feeding my blogs in to Twitter, I’ve been able to “promote” my blog to my followers, who, if they like what I’ve written, have retweeted on to their followers. When I get this right, my hits shoot through the roof and I know I’ve struck a chord.
But how about you? What do you do to promote your blog? How do you engage with your readers?
Fiona Humberstone, Flourish design & marketing
Search engine optimisation (SEO) involves taking steps to improve the volume or quality of traffic to a website from search engines such as Google via natural or unpaid search results.
The higher your website appears in the search results list, the better its chance of attracting visitors – and converting that interest into a sale, of course.
If you have recently paid an agency or freelance to create a website for your business, they should know all about SEO and it should have been a key deciding factor in the finer detail of the work they did for you.
If your website is many years old or if you are planning to create your own website, then you will need to get to grips with a few SEO basics, if your website is to be fully optimised for search engines.
Where to begin? Buy or (better still borrow) a good introductory guidebook. I recommend Getting Noticed on Google by Ben Norman. For more detail, try Search Engine Optimisation for Dummies by Peter Kent or When Search Meets Usability by Shari Thurow and Nick Musica.
If someone else has designed or maintains your website, check with them that your site has been fully optimised for search engines. This applies to headings, alt tags, meta tags, page structure, page titles and meta descriptions/keywords. Each is essential to improving your SEO results.
Keywords must appear with sufficient frequency in main copy on each page. For example, if you are offering plumbing services in Wiltshire, then the words ‘plumbing’ and ‘Wiltshire’ should make up about 5-10 per cent of all words used. The trick is to be natural in use of language, as (apart from reading badly and so putting people off) deliberate/ham-fisted repetition of the same words (or deliberately hiding keywords) will make search engines ignore your site.
Submit your site to the major search engines. Make sure you register your website with Google Analytics, so that you can measure your traffic. Check out Google AdWords if you want to pay to advertise, they have a starter package that is very easy to use.
Try also to source appropriate websites that can link to yours, but avoid those that promise to put your link on 600 other sites (most of which are often totally irrelevant), it will just look as though you’re spamming.
Google your keywords and check which sites come up in the results. If there are directories on the list or websites open to having relevant links (sometimes linking from yours back to theirs in return), contact them.
Analyse your results carefully and learn from them. Check Google Analytics, search on the major search engines at regular intervals to check your position in the results and keep your content fresh and up to date.
By following this simple advice, you should be able to make your website more likely to appear in search engine listings. If reading this has left you none the wiser about SEO, then you should probably seek the services of a specialist, otherwise you could be left counting the cost in disappointingly low visitor numbers to your website.
2009 has been a hectic year for the Start Up Donut. Since launching in July, we’ve been working non-stop to bring you new features, articles, interviews, tips, blogs and advice on starting and running small businesses effectively.
We’ll be recharging our batteries over the festive period, so @StartUpDonut will be away from Twitter until Monday 4 January and this will be the last blog post until then. The Start Up Donut website will be available throughout that time, so you can still get your fix of start-up advice.