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February 18th, 2008

No blog for you…

Blogs have been a big marketing trend for about three years, and lately more and more small business owners are talking about “having” to start one. As if there’s a rule that says without a blog, your professional website design is destined for failure.

With delivery rates taking a hit again recently (as I’ve said before, these things are cyclical–filters get stricter, cut down on *spam* and then relax), you might be believing the hype that the only way to communicate with your audience is with a blog.

But, here’s the thing: if you can’t publish a successful, thriving newsletter (read: one that brings you a flow of clients or product sales, reader feedback, interview requests or whatever else your goals may be), you’re not likely to have more luck with a blog.

It’s not the bounces that make an email newsletter less effective.

In fact, a blog is a much more time-consuming, technically-challenging way to embrace your audience. And, because unlike an email newsletter, most blog readers don’t subscribe, you must continually compound your traffic at a level much more intense than with an email newsletter.

Unless and until you can make your newsletter effective, don’t go skipping off to a blog because you think it’ll be easier, or “the right fit.” So, how do you know if a blog is a bad idea? You start by getting informed on the current landscape of just what you can expect from a blog.

  1. The vast majority of blogs don’t make money.

    In fact, Steve Pavlina estimates that 99% of blogs that are designed to make money, don’t.

    Compare that to newsletters–I don’t have a single client who’s not profiting from their newsletter (albeit, some less directly than others). Partly, this is because most internet users still aren’t as comfortable with blogs as they are with newsletters, but it’s about a lot more than that.

    So many people publish a blog without a clear plan for making it a part of their business promotion strategy. They just think, “I’ve got a lot to say that people want to read” and figure it’s free to set something up on Blogger, so off they go.

    If you want your business publishing strategy (newsletters, blogs, free reports and whitepapers, etc) to be a successful way to earn more business, you must create a strategy to make it so. Here are five things to consider if you’d like to add a blog to your marketing strategy.

  2. Blogging technology isn’t easy.

    Sending an email newsletter is easy. You already know how to send email, and a newsletter is just like sending one email, but to lots of people. (Yes, you need a special distribution program, but those tend to be very easy to use.)

    Keeping a blog, on the other hand, can easily become very complicated. First, you have to learn to use your new platform. Second, you have to learn how to make sure your blog works for all of your visitors, and for the search engines. Then, there are updates and extensions to install, and maintenance and management to handle. You’ll have to manage comments (if you allow them) or watch your blog be inundated with comment spam (yes, there are plugins to help with this comment management, but they still require human intervention from time to time).

    You’ve probably heard that a blog is super easy to start and keep up with. That’s an exaggeration. That’s not to say they’re impossible, but you’ll need a basic understanding of HTML, programming languages (whichever your blog platform is written in), SEO, and, probably, MySQL.

  3. A blog requires attention. Continually.

    Your newsletter requires attention however often you write it–once a week, once a month, once a quarter, etc. Every few issues, you’ll want to take a look at your bounce reports, your open rates, your click-thrus, and other key elements.

    With a blog, there’s more to keep track of. And, if you want it to be effective, you’re going to need to keep track everything a lot more often. First, you have website statistics that cover everything from how long someone stays on your blog to the search terms they used to find your blog. Then you have RSS feed numbers to check on. And you’re going to need to write on your blog at least two or three times a week if you want to get the full benefit of having one.

    While there’s a belief that blogs are easier to write because you can be less formal and more yourself, your readers aren’t going to overlook typos in your blog any more than they will in your newsletter. They aren’t going to keep reading if your blog posts are fluff, any more than they’ll keep reading your newsletter if *it’s* fluff. Just because the medium is different doesn’t mean your readers will expect less of you–so don’t make the mistake of thinking that a blog is easier to write or attend to.

  4. A blog requires you to leap into the blogosphere.

    In order to have a really successful, popular blog, you’re going to have to dive into the blogosphere. That means visiting other people’s blogs and making thoughtful comments on what they’ve written. (In other words, you absolutely MAY NOT visit other blogs and say, “I like what you’ve said here. Visit my blog, too!”)

    You’ll need to embrace social bookmarking tools like StumbleUpon. You’ll want to join Blog Carnivals and participate in memes.

    Sure, with an email newsletter you can’t just bury your head in the sand and shut yourself out of the world around you, but with a blog you’ll need to get fully engaged in what other people are doing. Blogs are more about conversation than newsletters are.

  5. You can’t ignore the offline world.

    Some people see a blog as a great way to pretend that the only thing that matters is online. But, whether you use a blog or an email newsletter (or both), keep in mind that offline media is still a great way to increase your credibility. Ten years ago, I was teaching a class on internet research and the students predominantly felt that resources on the internet were completely “made up.” While people are trusting information they find online more these days, there’s still no substitute for getting yourself profiled in a book by an expert or in a top tier magazine article.

    Continue to pursue those offline publications–send out press releases, engage reporters, and stay involved in your local business community. Consider a print newsletter, or a postcard campaign. Embrace publicity in all its diverse forms, and don’t be afraid of “real world” marketing.

For all of their drawbacks, blogs can indeed be a great way to connect with your community. But don’t make the mistake of giving up on your newsletter thinking a blog is the magic pill that will bring you the profits you couldn’t generate from a newsletter. Make your newsletter profitable *first* and then add a blog, when you’re ready to grapple with the extra challenges. By starting your blog with your eyes wide open about the challenges–and potential advantages–you’ll be a lot more likely to still be blogging, and profiting, six months from now.

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