Since its beginnings as an online diary in the 1990s, the ubiquitous web log, or “blog”, has grown enormously to take the world by storm. It has reshaped the face of journalism, played a monumental role in trend-setting and sparked an online revolution. There are now nearly 160 million blogs on the Web, some of which are among the most-visited sites on the planet. Most recently, blogs have been retooled for business, creating a mechanism for connecting with customers, building communities and, of course, marketing.

Start a Conversation and Build a Community

A blog allows you to have an intimate, one-to-one discussion with your clients. Because the idea of the blog developed from an online diary, blogs are written in a very casual, personal tone. This is great for giving your business a human dimension and a more positive persona, setting you apart from the competition.

In times past, companies were nervous of divulging information about their internal workings. Today, it can be a great way of building a loyal bond with your client base, sharing some intimate, behind-the-scenes details that clients would normally not see. The popularity of the television show The Office, with its video-blog-like format, attests to this.

The beautiful thing about blog content, as opposed to simply having webpages, is that readers can respond to it, comment, ask questions and bring other people to join the conversation. When combining this feature with the one above, you can build a dedicated community of followers over time.

Promote Your Website

The more you blog, the more you fill your website with content, making it more likely to receive a higher search engine rank, and therefore be found online. Plus, all those comments add an additional layer of website marketing. User-generated content is perhaps the easiest and most effective way to drive your site’s rank higher. This will undoubtedly increase the number of unique visits to your website, driving up traffic and further improving the site’s rank. Best of all, this positive feedback cycle works on its own, without you having to lift a finger!

How To Blog

Choose a Platform

Today, there are many blog-hosting services you can choose from. The most popular is WordPress, famous for its many plug-ins and search engine friendliness. Blogger.com is great because you can set up a fully-functional blog in literally seconds, especially if you have a Gmail account. Blog.com has the best and simplest domain names (you.blog.com). For a more professional tool, Squarespace.com is the way to go. It offers many additional features such as special password-protected content (for, say, VIP customers).

Start Writing!

Fill up your blog with as much content as possible. Make sure you contribute regularly – at least once a week. This keeps your readers continually up-to-date and reminds them of your presence. It also ensures your website’s rank stays high.

The most important factor to remember is to write content that is useful. The information should carry value to its reader. This may be in the form of tips, answers to FAQs, professional advice, new offers and products, coupons, promotions and so on.

Also, you may want to keep your blog posts short. Statistics consistently show that people are not interested in reading large amounts of text. Better yet, include videos and photos in your blog.

Subscription and Social Media

A key element for any blog is to allow RSS feeds. These alert your readers whenever you post a new entry, reminding them to come back to your site.

Even more significantly, synchronize your blog with Facebook, Twitter and other social media. This will go a long way in spreading awareness of your blog and drawing in fresh visitors. Plus, it raises the likelihood of others spreading your brand for you, whether by re-tweeting or hitting “like” on Facebook.

Tip: use TweetDeck or HootSuite to combine all your social media tools into one easy-to-manage dashboard. The program will post on all your networks at once to save you time and effort.

Good to Know

August 31 is known as BlogDay, set to further the cause of bloggers and interconnect the blogosphere. On this day, bloggers post links to five other blogs which they like. Find out more: blogday.org

Happy Blogging!