In the early 2000s, blogging was fairly new, especially in South Africa. As with everything, we had our early adopters. But these energetic chaps were in the minority. For the most part, blogs tended to be random and haphazard amalgamations of information, seemingly spewed onto the digital page with little thought given to form, content or theme.
I generalise, of course. The point, however, is that these early evolvers have given blogging a bit of a bad name. A messy, unfocused name. Luckily, they didn’t make a very big noise about it, and not too many people found out.
With time, more and more people began to realise the potential power of blogging. For the first time, web users had a voice. They could make themselves heard – for free! Even early blogging tools offered a certain amount of customisability, and users felt they could express themselves creatively as well. People began to see that they could showcase their crafts, share thoughts on their sci-fi obsession, and compare notes on their favourite authors.
Small businesses began to create blogs to serve as online brochures and newsfeeds for their companies. Writers started using blogs as portfolios, demonstrating their skill with every new article, and creating an online portfolio with every old one.
During this time, search engines didn’t pay too much attention to bloggers. That doesn’t mean blogs were ignored – they weren’t. But “real” websites with “real” content (read: keyword-laden, hard-to-read online tomes) always ranked more highly than blogs in search results pages (SRPs).
It’s all about search
All that has changed. Search engines in general, and Google in particular, began to see how people could outwit the system to their own nefarious ends. Backlinks were bought on the web equivalent of the black market. Keywords were poured onto pages like ketchup onto stale McDonalds fries. The reader of a site was barely considered in favour of obtaining those elusive, seductive search rankings.
The result? People stopped trusting Google. This wasn’t Google’s fault. Google wasn’t’ abusing the system to obtain better search rankings. But because Google (and other search engines) created the system in the first place, people felt compelled to do whatever it would take to achieve better rankings. And users rebelled.
Google understood that if users don’t trust the results of a search, they will eventually top trusting the search engine. Ultimately, search engines would serve less of a role, and that is the last thing Google wants. The solution? Years of research and development have given us new search algorithms based on what users really want: fresh, relevant, readable content. This means that we need to have a constant stream of fresh, relevant content on our websites.
Now, a traditional, static HTML site is not the best tool for this purpose. For one thing, without a solid grounding in HTML fundamentals, the risk of breaking something is fairly substantial. And why should you learn all about how to code when all you want to do is share a simple newsflash about your latest widget? Static HTML sites simply aren’t geared towards regular content updates.
Enter the humble blog
This is where the years of content management system (CMS) development by teams like the ones behind WordPress, blogger and even open-source CMSes like Mambo, Joomla and Drupal really come into their own.
For one thing, the very nature of a content management system implies that the content is fresh. Search engines can read the back end of a site and “see” that it is a CMS. Because CMSes are created to empower the website owner to maintain her own site content, the implication is that she will do just that. For this reason, Google loves CMSes.
But more importantly, CMSes in general, and blogs in particular, make it very simple indeed to post fresh content on your website. In other words, not only does a CMS-driven website imply fresh content; a CMS-driven website allows you to publish actual fresh content on a regular basis.
- A blog can be used for sharing educational articles: articles that engage your readers and inform them of the benefits of your products and services.
- A blog can be used to share news both from your company and in your industry.
- A blog can be used to share special offers and pricing changes.
- A blog can be used as a platform for connecting with your audience. The very nature of blog content tends to be less formal and more natural. Your goals is to allow your readers to feel like they’re engaging with a real person. This develops a sense of trust.
- A blog is a great place to establish yourself as an expert in your field. This is achieved by answering questions related to your industry in a readable and practical way.
- Share tips, tricks, insights and advice that allow users to get the most out of what you do. The easier it is to use your product or service, the more likely it is that they will.
Maintenance is vital
One key to bear in mind if you do choose to use a blog as part of your marketing arsenal is that it needs to be fed. Your blog needs to be maintained. It’s better to have no blog at all than to have a blog with stale content. We’ll discuss blog maintenance in a subsequent post.
What about you? Does your company include a blog, and if so, what kind of content do you share? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below. If you’re just thinking about jumping into online marketing, hire me.