By Janis Joseph
Blogs (Web logs) have come a long way. While in 1999 only a handful of people published them, today there are millions. Just as websites have become a necessary tool for modern companies, blogs are now becoming an integral part of these commercial sites.
WHAT IS A BLOG?
If you're not familiar with the concept or format, click over to AtarChef for an example. This is a food/humor blog I hammered together in less than an hour -- partly to illustrate this article, but also to see if the process is really as easy as claimed.
The first bloggers were, by necessity, of the geek persuasion -- since only they had the requisite skills for producing Web pages. But user-friendly new software has made blogging easy for even the least technically inclined. Since all writing, formatting, and uploading is conducted from within your browser, producing Web content is now as easy as reading it.
What are blogs about? Any topic you can name. Many are still faithful to the original concept: an intimate, no-holds-barred online diary. Subjects range from confessions and obsessions to politics, technology, hobbies, and topics-defying-definition. But all share a personal tone of voice far removed from corporate babble. Another prominent feature is a column with a list of links to other recommended blogs on similar topics.
But perhaps the most compelling feature is the high degree of interactivity that popular blogs achieve. Most encourage visitors to post their own comments. The resulting online "conversations" -- or arguments -- often rival the original post for interest.
BLOGGING FOR PROFIT
Blogs are not the sole domain of geeks or exhibitionists. They have tangible benefits for commercial companies and even non-profit organizations: Blogs boost search engine ranking; furthermore, they enhance credibility and foster a sense of personal connection, huge considerations for achieving customer interest and loyalty.
Search engines reward sites with a large quantity of incoming links and lots of fresh content. This is exactly what blogs provide. Because adding content is so simple, it's done more frequently. And many blog directories have a high ranking, so simply registering your blog can have a significant effect -- which will be further augmented once you start getting links from other blogs.
The personal connection provided by blogs pays many dividends. Surveys on website credibility state that visitors are favorably impressed by transparency, which they interpret as honesty and reliability. The Guidelines for Web Credibility, published by Stanford University, advise: "...show there are real people behind the site and in the organization...For example, some sites post employee bios that tell about family or hobbies."
A typical blog entry leaves no doubt about the character, interests and personality of the person behind it. Even if the main section of the site is more businesslike and impersonal -- with an emphasis on transmitting either facts or a particular "image" -- the blog section is frank, casual, infinitely more friendly. This unique voice can encourage a casual site visitor to actually contact the site owners directly, a primary goal for most sites.
Blogging also facilitates exchange among members of a particular group or profession. A good example is the Air Conditioning Contractors of America's blog. This trade association, with 4000 member companies, maintains its blog in addition to a traditional site and weekly newsletters. This is how the now thriving blog was introduced to members, a group not noted for being particularly Web-savvy:
"ACCAbuzz is a new way we will be communicating with our members and the entire HVACR industry. It gives us an easy way to post quick news items, commentary, and links to articles of interest…it's here that our staff and members can keep everyone in the loop, ask questions, and get real-time feedback. In announcing this new site to our members, we called it a "daily newsletter on steroids," because it just keeps growing, all day long!"
Joining the "blogosphere" can kick your business website into high gear -- greatly increasing your site's interest, credibility and responsiveness to your target audience.
Blog search engines and directories:
Copyright 2005, Janis Joseph, All Rights Reserved
Janis Joseph owns AtarTec, an Israel-based design shop that specializes in websites and corporate identity for mid-sized businesses and organizations. She also writes the "WWW 4U" column, on web design issues, for the Jerusalem Post.