Tuesday, April 29, 2008

The 7 Deadly Sins of Blogging


The flipside of the ten P's of blogging previously covered here are the attributes or characteristics that should be avoided in creating a successful business blog. Like the seven deadly sins in Christianity, these vices can relegate a blogger to the underworld of the blogosphere though the judgment of readers.

Gluttony: Avoid the "it's all about ME!" syndrome in blogging, where every post is about ME, MY company, or MY product or service. It's perfectly acceptable to write a personal post on occasion, or selectively bring up one's product or service in highly pertinent posts. But if one's own company and its offerings are the only topics of coverage, the end result will be a (very boring) piece of extended marketing collateral, rather than an effective blog that enhances organizational recognition and credibility.

Greed: Everyone has to eat, so there's nothing wrong with generating income from a blog—providing it's done ethically. Including sidebar content from ad networks and/or affiliate programs is a common and accepted practice. The sin, however, comes from deception—passing off paid content as an "objective" blog post. If exposed, this practice destroys a blog's credibility.

Sloth: A blog needs fresh content on a reasonably frequent basis to be effective. Writing a couple of posts per month (or less) is not conducive to getting traction with search engines, RSS subscribers or other bloggers.

Wrath: The best review posts have an objective tone, presenting both the strong points and limitations of a product, services, company, individual or idea. But posts that simply trash someone or something seldom do a blogger or his/her audience any good, and certainly don't help the subject of the writing. I've heard the same idea expressed in a number of different ways over the years: "Keep your words short and sweet, in case you have to eat them later" (folk wisdom, almost everyone's grandmother), "If you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all" (my mother), and "You'll catch more flies with honey than you will with vinegar" (Mary Ann from Gilligan's Island). It rarely pays to make enemies.

Pride: You've seen it—bloggers who write with the tone of "I am the all-knowing fountain of wisdom on (topic), and you mere mortals should count yourselves blessed indeed to feast on the morsels of knowledge that fall from my intellectual table." Oh gag me. Get over yourself. I'd love to name some names here, but don't want to violate the deadly blogging sin of wrath (above).

So, instead, I'll point out some counter examples. Laura Ries is a best-selling author and frequent speaker at industry events, as well as a principal of marketing consulting firm Ries & Ries in Atlanta. Given her stature, she could perhaps be forgiven a bit of arrogance; yet neither her blog nor her approachable and charming personality display a bit of it.

Another example is Guy Kawasaki, a former Apple Fellow, founding partner of Garage Technology Ventures, and author of eight best-selling business books. Despite his fame and pedigree, Guy's blogging is delightfully humble and self-effacing. One of my favorite examples is his closing line of The 120 Day Wonder: How to Evangelize a Blog: "May you use this knowledge to rise in Technorati and make the A List. Just say hello as you pass me by--someday I'll be sucking up to you. :-)"

Seth Godin falls into this camp as well. In fact, it seems that it is rarely the truly famous who display pompous behavior online, but most often the wannabes, like...ooh, can't do it, no wrath.

Okay, this is where my parallel construction with the seven deadly sins of Christianity breaks down. The last two are "lust" and "envy." While someone may be able to come up with a clever way to relate those to blogging sins, I'll focus on two blogging-specific vices here.

Failing to acknowledge the existence of other bloggers: This sin often goes hand-in-hand with Pride above, but is its own worst practice. One of the very cool features of a blog post is, of course, the ability to link to other relevant blog posts as one is writing. For example, pretty much everything I know about podcasting I learned from podcasting guru Albert Maruggi, so I rarely write anything about the topic without linking to him.

Yet some bloggers write as if they are the only experts on a given topic, or at least the only ones with an opinion worth reading. They consistently fail to link to other bloggers who could add additional knowledge, perspective or insight into the topic at hand. Very bad blog etiquette.

And last but not least...

No contact information: The vast majority of blogs enable readers to comment on posts, which is great. But sometimes, a reader will have a question or comment they'd rather share with the author personally rather than through the very public forum of commenting. Giving readers no way to contact you directly is just flat-out rude.

There you have it. Avoid the sins above and your blog may ascend to new heights of readership; engage in these vices and you risk damnation to the depths of unread-blog hell.

*****


Contact Tom Pick: tomATwebmarketcentralDOTcom

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Thursday, April 24, 2008

The Importance of a Follow-Up


Being social media savvy, you add blogger outreach to your PR plans for a new product launch. You carefully research blogs using related keywords and competitor names to build a solid outreach list. You carefully craft your message, following best practices for blogger PR outreach: personalize each message, make it clear that you've read the blog and understand its subject matter, and explain the relevance of your message.

You send your messages, and then...nothing. Or very little response. What now?

Just as with advertising, PR relies on frequency. There are many possible reasons for low uptake by bloggers; follow-up is essential to determining what may have gone wrong, and how results can be improved.

Blogger PR follow-up follows the same rules as initial outreach: make it personal, informal and relevant. In addition, follow-up should:
  • Provide new or updated information, not just a rehash of the original message. For example, with a new product launch, an update could include an award, coverage by an analyst, a new customer win or anything else that builds on the initial announcement.

  • Restate or further explain the relevance of your message to the blogger and his or her audience.

  • Offer additional information, such as a white paper or interview with a key executive or product designer.

The most common reasons a blogger may have chosen not to write about your product and many and varied, but at the least include:
  • They were simply too busy. This is where follow-up can really help shake some coverage loose, as a second or third message may hit them at a better time.

  • Your first message didn't adequately explain the relevance. Particularly with technology products and services, it's crucial not just to explain how cool the new technology, but how it applies—specifically—to the blogger's subject area.

  • They shouldn't have been on the list. Many bloggers will ignore a first message that they find irrelevant, but respond directly to the second or third. This is important to know: you don't want to be a spammer, but do want to understand the blogger's focus in case he or she may have an interest in a future announcement.

  • They simply weren't impressed, or worse, found deficiencies in your new product. This is where establishing personal contact is really critical, as it can mean the difference between getting direct confidential feedback that you can address individually, or suffering negative exposure on a blog with no real chance to tell your side of the story.

As recent posts on student blogs such as Renee Noseff's Technological Advances in the PR World and Effective PR 101, as well as established PR blogs like Cece Lee's PR Meets Marketing and Scott Monty's Social Media Marketing Blog show, blogger outreach is becoming a mainstream PR tactic. Careful planning and crafting of both initial outreach and follow-up messages can maximize your social media exposure.

*****


Contact Tom Pick: tomATwebmarketcentralDOTcom

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Monday, April 21, 2008

Hosted Email Service Price Comparison: Part 1

Hosted marketing email services are almost a commodity. Much like web hosting, email outsourcing is pretty much a no-brainer for all but the highest volume mail senders; email providers have already made the investments in deliverability, CAN-SPAM compliance, HTML tools and reporting, so there's no reason to build your own. And also similar to web hosting providers, there are few significant functional differences to separate one from another, so the choice largely comes down to personal preference, and—as with all commodities—price.

Email hosting services aren't quite a commodity, as there are still differences in functionality and service offerings. Virtually all of them, however, offer at least the same basic set of capabilities, including list management, tools for creating HTML and plain text emails, scheduling and reporting.

This chart compares current pricing levels for eight popular hosted marketing email platforms (click to enlarge):

So, which platform offers the best deal? That depends.

Low-volume senders: if you're sending fewer than 5,000 email messages per month, Express Email Marketing from GoDaddy offers the best price. Benchmark Email is a close second.

High-volume senders: above 5,000 emails per month, StreamSend clearly provides the most attractive pricing. Constant Contact, MailGenie and Campaigner (formerly Got) are all priced very similarly, at about 50% higher than StreamSend.

Irregular senders: Most hosted platforms are priced on a monthly basis and designed for marketers who send newsletters or promotions on a regular schedule. But if you only send out occasional messages—such as for new product announcements or special promotions—VerticalResponse may be the best choice. They charge by the email, with no monthly fee. You'll pay a bit more per email, but you're never charged for capacity you aren't using. VerticalResponse CEO Janine Popick also writes an excellent blog on email marketing best practices.

Again, price isn't the only factor when selecting a hosted email platform. While most services offer the same basic feature set, providers vary in terms of the number and quality of pre-built HTML templates offered, CRM integration options, usability and other factors. Many offer a free test drive so you can check them out before making a commitment. The bottom line is that with hosted email services, as with so many other things, it pays to shop around.

*****


Contact Tom Pick: tomATwebmarketcentralDOTcom

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Tuesday, April 15, 2008

The 5 Best Social Media Sites for Small Businesses


Note: the following is a guest post from expert researcher and freelance writer Heather Johnson on how businesses can effectively use social media as a component of PR efforts, and efficiently focus their efforts on the most productive sites.

Social media sites, no longer relegated to just teens and college students, are now the most cost-effective way for a company to drum up international attention. In fact, social networking serves as a great equalizer for small businesses, as anyone with an Internet connection can now launch a successful, global marketing campaign.

With so many sites to choose from, however, one can easily become overwhelmed. Small businesses have neither the time nor the manpower to cover every major site. Instead, it is best to strongly focus on several and then let the viral nature of social media take over.

Below, I have listed the five best social media sites for small businesses, as well as related tips for each one.

1. StumbleUpon - A recent post cited StumbleUpon as the best social media site for driving B2B Web traffic. Indeed, it is currently the reigning champ for promoting many types of Websites. Not only it is easier to gain attention on StumbleUpon than many other bookmarking sites, the tail of traffic is much longer.

Tip: After your business is "discovered" on StumbleUpon, give your site a little boost by starting a StumbleUpon ad campaign. For just 5 cents a visitor, you can drive a specifically targeted audience to your businesses' homepage.

2. Twitter – Twitter is a great way for business owners to network at their own convenience. With this tool, you have 140 characters to answer the question, "What are you doing?" People on your Twitter friends list will see each of your posts (aka "tweets"), which can be used to promote new ideas and features for your business.

Tip: Don't promote your site with every tweet, lest you become labeled a spammer. Point out other sites that interest you or something amusing that is really affecting you that day. With those tweets, you can sprinkle in a link to your latest blog entry or a special feature offered by the company.

3. LinkedIn – Everyone is truly connected in the business world and LinkedIn offers a way to visualize this massive network. By starting a professional profile on this site, you will be able to add real-world business contacts to your friends list, as well as the contacts of those people. And so on.

Tip: According to Guy Kawasaki, those with 20 or more connections on LinkedIn are 34 times more likely to be approached about business opportunities through the site.

4. Wikipedia – It is a boon to your small business to be mentioned on Wikipedia. The site's many entries are highly ranked in Google and read by millions each day. One caveat: Wikipedia editors can be ruthless about removing external links from the site, so it isn't an easy feat to make your small business "stick."

Tip: Before you go bounding for the world's largest wiki and adding a link to your business, start an account with the site and become active for a few weeks. Only after you educate yourself on how to contribute to Wikipedia should you attempt to start your own page. This will increase your chances of remaining on the site.

5. Wetpaint – Wikipedia isn't the only wiki on the map. With Wetpaint, you can create your company's own wiki for free. This wiki platform is attractive and easy to create. A "What You See is What You Get" (WYSIWYG) editor, even technical novices can customize the site, upload articles and widgets, etc. No programming knowledge required.

Tip: What Wetpaint offers is a way to get direct feedback from customers, as well as high Google ranking. If you don't want the public to edit the pages on your Wetpaint site, as administrator you can lock each one.

Rather than starting a blog and tirelessly plugging your entries on Digg or Reddit, you should use the sites above to create long-term business contacts and continuous traffic. These five sites require less commitment and cost little to no money for a successful marketing campaign. Small businesses will truly be on an even playing field.


Heather Johnson is a freelance business, finance and economics writer, as well as a regular contributor at Business Credit Cards, a site for best business credit cards and best business credit card offers. Heather welcomes comments and freelancing job inquiries at her email address heatherjohnson2323@gmail.com.

*****


Contact Tom Pick: tomATwebmarketcentralDOTcom

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Friday, April 11, 2008

The 11th P of Blogging: Perspective


The 10Ps of blogging may seem to be quite enough, but a recent article by Matt Richtel of the New Yorks Times entitled Work fast, die young: The blogger lifestyle? pointed out the need for an 11th "P" word—perspective.

Why do you blog? Probably for many reasons, but most of the bloggers I most frequently interact with—people like Brian Carroll of the B2B Lead Generation Blog, Elge Premeau at My Travels on the Net, Albert Maruggi at the Marketing Edge, and Skip Lineberg of Marketing Genius—blog primarily as a PR activity to support a separate consulting business or marketing agency.

There are also corporate bloggers, analysts, journalists, and people who just enjoy writing as a creative outlet. The vast majority of bloggers do so on a part-time basis, but a few people—a tiny fraction of a fraction of the 100 million-plus bloggers—do it for a living.

Which brings us back to Richtel's article. He focused on two technology bloggers, Russell Shaw and Marc Orchant, who died suddenly and prematurely, and speculated that the "blogger lifestyle" may contribute to coronary problems. Both deaths are a tragic loss, and while Richtel accurately points out that two deaths out of 100 million bloggers hardly constitutes a trend, an endless regimen of 18-hour days, coffee and protein supplements is hardly conducive to a long and healthy life.

Perspective comes in this paragraph from Richtel: "Bloggers at some of the bigger sites say most writers earn about $30,000 a year starting out, and some can make as much as $70,000. A tireless few bloggers reach six figures." Those top bloggers reach 100,000 page views per month.

For perspective, if your blog gets more than a handful visitors per day, it's doing better than 99% of the blogs in existence. If you are getting 300 or more visits per month, your blog is in the top 1/2 of 1% of all blogs. 100,000 page views per month is the stratosphere.

The bottom line is to keep blogging in perspective. It can be a healthy creative outlet, and a valuable PR tool. But as one's sole means of making a living, the odds of success seem too remote, the dangers of the lifestyle too real, and the likely rewards insufficient to make this the most appealing career path imaginable.

*****

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Thursday, April 10, 2008

The 6 P's of Blogging


Following up on my recent post on The 4 Ps of Effective Business Blogging, here are six more Ps to keep in mind for business blogging success.

Platform

There are a wide array of options for building and hosting your blog, from the big 3 online options—Blogger, TypePad and WordPress—to software applications and content management (CMS) systems with blogging features. The topic of which platform is best has filled numerous blog posts, including inpholust's Blogger vs. TypePad vs. Wordpress, Blogger vs. TypePad: Some Questions from Blogging Basics 101, and TypePad vs. Blogger from The Blog Squad, as well as forum discussions.

The bottom line is: as long as the platform you choose makes your blog recognizable as such by search engines and provides RSS feed capability, it will work.

Prodigious

One of the original 4 Ps of blogging was persistence—writing new posts on a regular basis. Being prodigious refers to the frequency and volume of posting. Writing one new post per month, every month, would qualify as being persistent, but it certainly wouldn't be prodigious. Assuming one's writing has merit, there is a fairly direct relationship between prodigiousness and readership: posting three times a week will draw more traffic than weekly posting, daily posting will draw more traffic than 3X per week, etc.

Practical

The best posts are the ones that help someone to do something better. An occasional off-topic rant or musing is fine, but the "meat" of any successful business blog is information that your readers can use.

Positive

The old HR advice to "praise in public, criticize in private" holds true for blogging as well. It's fine to be objective—pointing out both the strong points and limitations of a new product, for example—but avoid pure invective. First, there is no profit in making enemies. Second, negative posts provide little if any value to your readers. And third, the fact that a blog post is forever means it is best not to write something today that you may regret later.

Peculiar

"Unique" would actually be a better word, but it doesn't start with P. While it's fine to comment on industry news, and extremely good etiquette to link to other blog posts, make sure you are providing new knowledge, a unique perspective, thoughtful critique or something else of unduplicated value. Posts that are purely derivative won't provide you or your readers with much value.

Patience

Don't expect huge traffic overnight. It takes time to build up a following and to generate a significant amount of content for the search engines to notice (though Guy Kawasaki provides excellent advice on how to generate substantial traffic to a blog within four months in The 120 Day Wonder: How to Evangelize a Blog). Don't be discouraged if your first few posts, brilliant and insightful as they may be, draw only a few readers when published; remember that search engines index these and those posts will be drawing traffic long into the future.

*****


Contact Tom Pick: tomATwebmarketcentralDOTcom

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Thursday, April 03, 2008

SEOmoz and the SEO Industry Survey


Search marketing hub site SEOmoz recently released the results of a survey of more than 3,000 search marketers covering demographics, practices, tools used and other topics. Their article, The SEO Industry Survey Results, by SEOmoz staff members Nick Gerner, Rebecca Kelley, Jeff Pollard and Rand Fishkin, provides an excellent summary of the results, so I won't rehash all of that here, but rather offer just a few observations on some of the more surprising findings.

You Can't Win if You Don't Play

More than half of respondents reported that their company either doesn't use PPC advertising at all or spends less than than $500 per month on paid search advertising. That's about what would be expected from a survey of the general business population, but considering that the respondents to this survey were all search marketing professionals, that figure is astounding. How can that many companies not understand the cost-effectiveness and inherent measurabilty of SEM?

You Get What You Pay For

At first glance, the income figures reported seem absurdly low, but this result is skewed by the global nature of the respondents. However, even when looking at the geographic breakout of income levels, it's surprising to discover that even in the U.S., 10% of search marketers make $30,000 or less, nearly half earn less than $60,000 per year, and roughly 60% take home $75,000 or less annually.

Search marketing is strategic. Your website is very often the first, or at least the second, impression that your prospects get of your organization. A crappy website reflects poorly on a company. A website that can't be found is even worse. I've seen (and been asked to fix) $30,000-per-year SEO; it isn't pretty, and worse, it isn't effective.

I Like Your Website, But Not Really

Most disturbing of all was that roughly 50% of respondents—both in-house and consultants—"recommend the use of the nofollow attribute for links." The nofollow tag is possibly the most insidious bit of HTML code ever devised; it should be banished from the global standard for the language, or at the very least ignored by search engine algorithms.

Nofollow is the online equivalent of "I don't want to date you, but can we still be friends?" No, it doesn't work that way. Either give XYZ Company a real link from your website, or don't bother.

Their tools may be elegant though overpriced, but the SEOmoz survey makes great and informative reading.

*****


Contact Tom Pick: tomATwebmarketcentralDOTcom

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