What would you think if I told you about a guaranteed method to reach 100% of your target audience? Beyond that, what would you think if I told you that you could develop a base of prospects who would look forward to hearing from you? You can do this, and more, by starting a blog.
Since the landmark CANN-SPAM legislation, I think the spam situation has gotten worse instead of better. I continue to get more new spam than I can effectively filter, and the "marketing gurus" who send me newsletters from time to time, are bemoaning the fact that as much as 46% of their outgoing e-mail is never getting to its intended recipients because of spam filters; either on desktops, or at ISPs.
Worse, in an effort to get through the filters and into your inbox, those same gurus are reduced to sending their messages using words like `s*p*a*m', or `f'ree', or `guar*an*teed'. For me, this is a turn- off that makes their messages look unprofessional, and in my eyes, costs them credibility. And here is where a blog begins to solve those problems.
What is a Blog?
The word is a loose contraction of the term, "Web Log." A blog is-at a minimum-"a journal that is available on the web. The activity of updating a blog is "blogging" and someone who keeps a blog is a
"blogger," according to the WWW Dictionary.
What is Blogging?
Blogging offers the opportunity for people to tell the world what's on their minds, to share their passions, or to simply inform them of current events-no matter how uniquely focused. Or.to tell them what's going on in their business. A blog is a hybrid e- zine/newsletter that keeps you and your contacts in touch with each other.
Who is Blogging?
Who can you name? While technically not blogs, all the major newspapers have created data feeds. Columnist Dave Barry has a very popular blog. Now that Google has bought Blogger, it has developed a blog to keep searchers up-to-date with ongoing activities in Palo Alto. And in this election year, political pundits are finding new and receptive audiences in the "blogosphere."
To find out who's blogging in your field, do a search at Bloglines (http://www.bloglines.com) for some of the keywords that you use on your own web site. I'm sure you'll be astonished at the results.
Blogging would be of little value if you had to depend on the traditional methods for getting traffic to your Web site. But a new piece of technology gives you the capability of reaching tens of thousands of readers with the click of a button. RSS-Real Simple Syndication-is a means by which the content on your Web site-and not restricted to blogs-can be translated and distributed to thousands of users who have access to a "News Feed." All at no charge.
Perhaps the most amazing feature to come to the internet in years, and the feature that allows your readers to make a distinction between news and spam, is the news aggregator. This is a software application that polls the world of blogs at user-defined intervals, and updates itself whenever it sees something new. Cori Rudl is touting this free technology as the next "big thing," and has apparently already figured out a way to make a buck at it.
With a news aggregator, you choose the sources you'd like to read, and the software will poll those sources hourly, daily, weekly- as you've specified-and it will notify you when one of them changes.
As you might imagine, several companies provide products or services to give you access to news feeds. They fall into two categories:
Web-based News Aggregators
Two of the popular aggregators on the Web are Bloglines (http://www.bloglines.com), and Blo.gs. (http://www.blo.gs) Simply register with either or both services-at no charge-then browse their database of blogs, and click the "subscribe" link for any that interest you. They'll be added to your personal space on the Web site, and you can make a bookmark to view them at your leisure.
Desktop News Aggregators
If you'd like to have news delivered directly to your desktop, you can download a news reader like Sharp Reader, or Feed Demon (http://www.bradsoft.com/feeddemon/).
Like their Web-based counterparts, these products enable you to specify which blogs (or news sources) you'd like to follow, and they will update them when they sense any changes. There is no charge for Sharp Reader. Feed Demon costs $29.00.
And if you'd prefer to get your updates via e-mail, News Gator (http://www.newsgator.com/) integrates itself with Microsoft Outlook, and will notify you about updates via a familiar interface. News Gator too costs $29.00.
How do I start?
Creating a blog requires special software that is available either free, or for a nominal monthly fee. Even better, though, blogging software is designed to flatten the learning curve for all who have the urge to share their thoughts with the rest of the world. It requires virtually no knowledge of HTML, or CGI programming. Updating a blog is as simple as typing words into a text editor, then clicking a button to publish your blog to the world.
Among the most popular blogging applications in use today, are Blogger (http://www.blogger.com), Movable Type (http://www.movabletype.org/), and Type Pad (http://www.typepad.com/).
Further removing the need to know HTML, blogging software allows you to choose a template (which you can customize) that gives all of your messages a consistent look. This could help you in branding yourself.
Additional built-in functionality
Whatever software you choose will have built-in functionality that will allow you to:
* Specify how many messages to display on a page * Specify the Archive interval (daily, weekly, monthly, etc.) * Provide an area for readers to leave comments at the end of each blog post.
You can even configure the software to send you e-mail notification when a reader leaves a comment. This gives you the ability to provide timely responses, and to reassure your readers that there is indeed a human behind the blog.
In addition, the software automatically attends to housekeeping chores like creating directories, archiving old posts, and displaying a particular number of messages per page, based on your specifications.
If you have your own domain name, you very likely have your own server, so you can host your blog there. If you prefer, though, Blogger will host your blog on their "Blog Spot" server at no charge. If you've subscribed to Type Pad's service, they will host your blog there.
Blogs have the ultimate opt-in audience
Thanks to the news aggregators, blogs are available to a staggering number of potential readers. Your task-at least initially-is to see to it that your current and potential customers have news aggregators, and that they have your blog listed in them.
When they see that you've updated your blog, you can have a high degree of confidence that they're going to read what you've written, because they voluntarily subscribed to your news feed. As I said earlier, they will very likely be glad to hear from you.
Beyond that, the blog world is loaded with "techno-geeks" who enjoy nothing more than watching to see whose blog has been updated recently. So you can count on some random traffic there too.
Finally, the blog world is inhabited by a talkative bunch of folks. Blogs, after all, are vehicles for communication. So it's very likely that if you begin to post worthwhile content to your blog, the word will get around. This is indeed the case where "if you blog it, they will come." But then it's your job to keep them coming back with high-quality content.
Once you've attracted a following, people will begin to seek out your blog for your expert advice and commentary. Your blog will become the go-to source for timely information about your area of expertise. And it will be only a matter of time before people will be compelled to drill down into your sales page, or go to your sales site to buy your product.
If it is indeed true that a sale rarely gets made before the seventh contact with a buyer, a blog can shorten the interval between contacts from weeks to days.
A day in the life
So what is the precise interaction between you and the blogging software that holds the potential to reach thousands of readers? Well, when I post a blog entry, I begin by writing it in Microsoft Word, text format. That way, I'm confident that I'm going to get all the major spelling and grammar mistakes out of the way quickly.
When I'm happy that I have a reasonably polished piece, I log-in to my blogging service, and I click on the "New Post" link. This gets me to a small text editor. From here, I go back to MS Word, copy my text, and paste it into the text editor.
Then, I select "Preview"" to view the document in a window that, while not browser-quality, is better quality viewing than raw ascii text editor. If I'm happy with what I see, I click on the "Publish" button. If not, I can go back to the text editor and make changes. And that's all there is to it. My latest post, formatted, dated, and ready for comments, is now in residence at Skip's Italian Food Blog (http://www.skiplombardi.com).
At this point, Blogger notifies a service called Weblogs.com (http://www.weblogs.com), and they post a message on their site, that Skip Lombardi has updated his blog. But that isn't even close to the end of the story.
Weblogs will tell all the people in their database that I've updated my blog, but there are many, many more services that do the same thing, and I want to reach all of them.
Seeing a need for bloggers to notify the blogosphere that they've updated their blogs, a couple of like-minded bloggers created a service called Ping-O-Matic (http://www.pingomatic.com). This is a free service that "pings" or notifies the most important news aggregators on the web that you've updated your blog. Now, you have the potential of being noticed by over 500,000 people. And not one of them will even consider the possibility that you're sending spam.
If you can get to the internet, you can have a blog
You don't even need to have a Web site to begin blogging. Simply subscribe to a free blog hosting service and have at it. Google will list your blog the same way they list every other Web page. And you don't even need keywords in your tags.
And speaking of Google, I've not seen any factual reports, but I've seen a ton of speculation on SEO websites that the spiders visit blogs more frequently than they visit traditional Web sites, because the blogs are updated so much more often. It certainly appears to be the case with my own blog. I've made postings, and seen those pages in Google within days afterward. So, at least by anecdotal evidence, blogging offers the possibility to improve your page ranking in the search engines.
Finally, blogs offer the ultimate opportunities for networking. The attitude among bloggers is that "we're all doing this together." So exchanging links with like-minded sites is the norm rather than the exception.
A blog will never replace e-mail-on a purely personal level. But a blog will help you to reach a larger audience than you thought possible with opt-in e-mail. Whether you sell information products, candles, or baseball cards, you'll find folks in the blogging world who are seeking exactly what you have to offer.
For me at least, a blog has provided the quickest way to reach the largest number of people. And every one of them is interested in hearing what I have to say next.
About the Author:
Skip Lombardi is the author of two cookbooks: "La Cucina dei Poveri: Recipes from my Sicilian Grandparents," and "Almost Italian: Recipes from America's Little Italys." He has been a Broadway musician, high- school math teacher, software engineer, and now, a fledgling blogger. But he has never let any of those pursuits get in the way of his passion for cooking and eating. Visit his site to buy either or both of his cookbooks. http://www.skiplombardi.com or mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org
"Reprinted from Zongoo! Computers".