7 must-haves for a successful business blog

Clarity of brand and content, as well as ease in navigation and sharing, are essential components.

I’ve learned a lot during my seven years of blogging. Online Marketing Blog has received a lot of praise recently, but more important, my experience with reviewing others’ blogs has been a learning experience. I’ve looked at more than 1,000 blogs to create the BIGLIST and recently reviewed the top UK online marketing blogs, as well.

Here are a few key characteristics that represent a highly productive blog in terms of branding, community, SEO, PR, recruiting and taking mindshare away from the competition:

1. URL. Pick something short and easy to remember. Blog.domainname.com works well, as does domainname.com/blog or companynamblog.com. Try to avoid obscure or long URLs like www.domainname.com/files/about/blog?home or worse, companyname.blogspot.com. If you’re representing a business, act professionally and use a domain name you control for your blog URL.

2. Blog name. If your blog has a unique name like “GM Fastlane,” then it should have a prominent logo that links to the blog’s homepage. If your blog is named “Company Name Blog” that’s fine, but offer a “home” to go to. Taglines to go along with the blog name are useful for readers so they understand what your blog is about. Taglines are also useful for search engine optimization.

3. Design. Make sure your brand’s style carries over to your blog’s design. Keep in mind that the design shouldn’t confuse readers by being too similar to that of your company’s website. Here are a few key points to keep in mind:

  • Stand out. There are millions of blogs, not to mention social channels like Twitter and Facebook. You’d better stand out, or you’ll be forgotten.
  • Add style. Make an effort to convey the personality and style of your company.
  • Easy to read. Headlines should be larger than the body copy. Blog author, date published and other elements like comment count are useful for readers to connect with post authors. The date indicates they’re reading fresh content. We remove dates after a year or so.
  • Header. Most bloggers express their creativity with header graphics or images. If you can’t have a unique logo for your blog, have a unique header.

4. Navigation. It’s critical to find content easily on a blog. Useful navigation elements include categories, tags or tag clouds, search box, popular posts, recent posts, and most-commented posts. You don’t need all of these, but the majority of them are useful.

5. Content. Create an editorial plan for the blog. After seven years of blogging, I like to have certain days each week planned out with specific topics and keep other days as wildcards. For example: Social Mondays, tactical tips on Tuesdays, Thursday rants, and Friday news roundup.

Pay attention to Web analytics, off-site citations, comments and social chatter to gauge whether your content resonates.

6. Social. Your blog might have Twitter, Facebook, Slideshare, YouTube, Amplify or similar accounts. Use them to extend the conversation, repurpose or mash up blog content.

I’ve added the Facebook fan box to my blog’s sidebar and made posts easy to share on Twitter and Facebook with buttons/counters at the top of each post. It’s no wonder that Facebook and Twitter drive a substantial amount of blog traffic. That’s not because I offer the sharing buttons as much as the fact that we’re social on Facebook and Twitter. Flair is no substitute for interaction. If you add social features to your blog, understand that to make them effective, you must also spend time on those social channels.

7. Who. Who is behind the blog? This is far too rare a feature on many blogs. Create a page that describes the purpose of the blog and the people behind it. That makes it clear what readers can expect and gives them something to identify with when reading posts.

There are many other tips for effective blogs. Essentially, make sure your blog conveys the brand and message you’re after with its design and content. Make it easy to read, navigate and share content. Within a few seconds, readers should be able to tell what the blog topic is and find something interesting. If not, they’ll move on to someone else.

Lee Odden is CEO of TopRank Online Marketing, where this article originally ran. Follow him on Twitter @leeodden.

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