Blogging can be a useful way to update customers, keep staff informed and to differentiate yourself from competitors. But is it right for your business? In this four-part series, we'll examine the businesses that are doing it right, provide you with a checklist of goals to achieve and outline the tools you'll need to get started.
Part Four: Potential hazards of a corporate blog
In the past three instalments of this series, we've looked at the reasons for starting a corporate blog, as well as some of the tools to help small and medium-sized businesses get started. To conclude, we’ll look at some of the potential pitfalls companies can face once they get their blogs up and running.
One of the most important things to remember about a corporate blog is that – like almost all content on the Internet – it lasts forever. Thanks to services such as Google Cache and the Internet Archive, blog posts can often live on long after they're deleted, and indeed, long after the entire blog is deleted.
While experts caution not to treat a blog like a repository of press releases, going too far in the other direction could also be troublesome. For example, a lighthearted post dealing with a an ongoing controversy in a company's industry can easily be taken by some to be representative of the company's official position on the topic. In fact, many companies, such as Facebook and Google, have taken to doing just that – posting their corporate opinions on their blogs, which are often quoted widely in the media.
Last month, after Apple CEO Steve Jobs blasted Google's Android operating system during an Apple conference call. Google issued no official response. Instead, the search engine's position was essentially distilled and disseminated in the form of a single Tweet posted from the account of the company's chief Android engineer. As such, while it may not be a good idea to treat a company blog as a public relations exercise, it's not a bad idea to keep an eye on the potential public relations impact of each post.
With so much focus on content, an often-overlooked aspect of a corporate blog is its look and feel. For many small and medium-sized businesses, the assumption is that users will visit the blog on a regular desktop or laptop computer. As such, many corporate blog owners either make very few design changes from a default template, or continue adding feature after feature.
But blogs – like the Web – are always changing. Increasingly, users are moving from desktops and laptops to mobile devices such as smart phones and tablets. Because those devices often access the Web via expensive cellular connections, giant Web pages can be especially annoying – not only will they take a long time to load, they'll also eat up expensive bandwidth and data. Because blogs contain little more than text, they’re easy to format, which means building a mobile version is often unnecessary. Also, keeping in mind that a site that relies heavily on Adobe's Flash format will give iPhone users trouble will go a long way towards making sure mobile users can effectively access the blog.
Essentially, many of the same design rules that apply to corporate Web sites apply to their blogs: the more bells and whistles you include on a site, such as graphics-intensive multimedia, the more users with older computers or slower Internet connections will have trouble accessing the site.
For many small and medium-sized businesses, the whole point of a blog is to generate links, thereby raising the business Web site's rankings in search engine results, generating more customers. A blog is a particularly good way to do this because it allows companies to post at length about content related to what they do, making the blog more relevant to certain keywords that describe that industry. Such techniques are called “Search Engine Optimization,” and an entire SEO industry exists to help businesses do just that.
However, there's a dark side to SEO – often referred to as “black-hat.” The term describes underhanded ways of raising a Web site's search engine ranking. One of the most common black-hat SEO techniques involves creating junk content full of keywords, in the hope that the frequency of the words' usage will trick search engines into raising a site's rankings. Blogs are especially useful for this sort of thing because they allow authors to post frequently and easily. Beware, however: search engines such as Google look down on such techniques, and will blacklist any Web site it catches employing them. Readers are also not especially fond of posts that contain little more than keyword fodder, or posts that are cribbed wholesale from other sites simply in the hopes of generating links.