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By Britt Brouse

RISMEDIA, June 10, 2008-( are picking up speed as a channel for winning better organic search results, converting more prospects and developing a more humanized, authentic brand. “Blogs are still not quite here yet in the majority of businesses, but the adoption is becoming quick because people are starting to finally recognize that this gives you a way to humanize your business … and get back to people-to-people interactions,” says Chris Baggott, CEO and co-founder of Compendium Software, a blog software provider based in Indianapolis.

With minimal setup costs, the benefits of starting a blog are just as powerful for small and large companies-with small companies pulling more search traffic and large companies expanding their brands. Like with any new marketing initiative, it is necessary to have a good plan in place. The practices discussed below illustrate how to get started with and manage a highly effective company blog.

1. Prepare a Strategy

“It should be organized, you should have some kind of blog editor, and you should have multiple authors that you’ve chosen and vetted because they write well and have something interesting to say,” says Debbie Weil, Washington, D.C.-based corporate blogging consultant and author of “The Corporate Blogging Book.” Open up authorship to employees other than the CEO or public relations representative. “This is not just PR; it’s people that are really hands-on and involved with the product, service or company, and they’re telling readers something that they can’t get elsewhere,” Weil says.

For content strategy, Baggott advises using search keywords to brainstorm topics.

“What are the terms that people are typing in that you want to win? Then blog on those topics … You tell real stories and humanize the company, but just make sure you use keywords in your blog post,” he says. Don’t write only about your product; develop posts with your demographic in mind. “If you are Clif Bar, you could blog about bicycle racing, hiking or outdoor activities-things that people who buy Clif Bars are interested in,” Weil says.

2. Focus on Search

Blogs are frequently updated and can beat your homepage in terms of winning organic search results. To organize your content, and provide focused results, Baggott advises looking at each blog entry as a search landing page. “Just like if we were doing PPC [pay-per-click] ads, we’d have a specific landing page for a keyword phrase. You know where [visitors] are coming from, so you provide a page that directly reflects what their search query was,” Baggott says.

Specific content will get the best results. “The more content the search engine sees that is specific to a topic, the more likely they are to serve up that page,” Baggott says. To achieve focus, he recommends organizing blogs around topics-not authors-and to create precise page and blog titles. Most importantly-keep updating. “Search is a content-driven business. The more content, the more likely you are to be found,” Baggott advises.

3. Convert with a Call to Action

Whether you’re an e-commerce retailer driving online sales or a B-to-B company generating new leads, it is vital to include calls to action throughout your blog. “What good does it do a business to have readers if they don’t convert?” Baggott asks. The content and the call to action go hand in hand. “If the blog is interesting, has useful content and fulfills the prospects’ need, they will click back to your homepage and say, ‘They seem to be leading experts on this product-and what the heck-I will buy my product from them,'” Weil explains. Therefore, there should be clear links back to your homepage or online product pages throughout.

Weil believes that some of the best calls to action on blogs are content-driven premiums such as whitepapers, webinars, reports and demonstrations. She advises marketers to put an employee’s contact information on the digital premium to drive any potential sales. Another benefit to offering premiums is building your e-mail list by requiring a valid e-mail address for each download.

4. Integrate Social Media

Blogs also allow companies to test-drive Web 2.0 media outside of their corporate sites. “Blogging is a piece of the bigger social media phenomenon, which includes community, user-created content, video, networking and micro blogging … Blogs are a great platform for most of the social media tools that people are experimenting with,” Weil says. Southwest Airlines’ blog is a good example; it includes Flickr photographs, employee entries, videos, a survey, company information and options to share content from Southwest through other social networking sites.

Weil sees blogs as a sort of next-generation website and an indicator of where Web use is heading. “In a couple of years, you’ll go to any corporate homepage and you’ll expect something there that is fresh, real, where you can leave a question and learn something that is not just that static corporate speak about the company,” she explains.

5. Track and Measure Results

Like any other marketing tool, blogs have measurable results. “You need to use the same analytics that you’re using on your website. Where’s the traffic coming from; what are they doing when they get to the site; and where do they go when they leave the site?” Baggott says.

One example Baggott gives of closed-loop ROI on a search is a customer who searched for a brand of liquor locally and found his client’s blog for a liquor store. Posting about a specific product, the store was seemingly the only one in the area carrying it and won the search and the sale. “It’s a good story of posting on a product, winning the search on the product and the customer coming in to buy the product. There’s a closed-loop ROI right there, and that happens every day with blogging,” Baggott concludes.

Britt Brouse is associate editor for Inside Direct Mail.

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