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Bloggers who review products given to them for free should disclose that fact in some circumstances, but journalists who write reviews for news outlets generally need not do so. That's according to the Federal Trade Commission's revised guides to testimonials and product endorsements. If you review or endorse products on your blog, make sure you are in compliance with the new rules.
Today's marketing, which some have dubbed Permission Marketing, is built around trust and relationships. Permission marketing is the act of marketing to people who want to be marketed to. It works like this: customers who find value in your content will opt-in to hearing more from you. For example, they might subscribe to your blog or join your facebook group. This relationship lasts as long as the customer finds value in your marketing.
In contrast (and without going into a great amount of detail), permission marketing is much different than the 'intentional interruption' approach that comes from the mass marketing mindset. Think how commercials interrupt a television program. Annoying, right? And what if the commercial is not something you are interested in? A total waste to time... People are tired of being interrupted, so they find ways to circumvent the noise. Tivo, which allows you to skips commercials, is a classic example.
How to get involved
With permission marketing, your messages should be personal and relevant, and offer value to the customer. And they need to appear at the right time and place in order to be effective. To really take advantage of permission marketing, you need to clearly identify your target customer, find where they spend their time online, and become a part of their community. Building trust and relationships are core features of online social networks, so they are a good place to start. In many cases social networks allow you to leverage demographic information (age, gender, location, etc.) so you can drill down from the masses and reach your target customer.
Having a blog and maintaining an email list are also good ways to participate in permission marketing. With blogs, folks can subscribe to your blog's feed, and unsubscribe at will. They do not need to give any personal information, like an email address, making the subscriber totally anonymous. Email lists operate differently, in that the subscriber must give you their email address. People are reluctant to give out their email these days due to the fear of receiving more spam. Once they have given their information, there is no way they can get it back.
Obey the law
If you are maintaing an email list for sending out newsletters or company updates, you are required to comply with laws governing commercial email. The extent of the laws are too much to go into detail, however here are a couple to give you an idea:
- Never send unsolicited email
- Provide an opt-out method (a way to unsubscribe)
- No misleading subject lines or sender information
The FTC has created a summary of the CAN-SPAM Act for more information.
Since email can easily be abused, it requires more effort on your part to comply with the laws. This may be well worth it because email newsletters can be very effective for small businesses. Email lists also require more trust on the subscriber's end, so don't be shy in reassuring them that you take their interest in your company seriously and promise to never abuse your email privileges.
Taking your own photographs for your blog. Sure, it's one way to add a personalized touch to your BizBlog without infringing on copyright laws, but don't you ever wish you could skip the battery-charging, cord-finding, good light-lacking tedium of DIY amateur photography? One of our top bloggers, a Certified Nutritionist named Shannon Schafer in San Francisco, was telling me that the one thing that slows down her blogging is the time and energy it requires to take photos and import them to her computer. This is where free stock photos can save you time!
There are dozens of sites offering free stock photos in hundreds (if not thousands) of categories. Looking for a great shot of a beautiful sunset? Or an image of a fresh fruit? Dreamstime's the place to go. You'll be offered pages upon pages of amateur and professional photography related to your search terms.
A word to the wise: some of these sites claim their photography is "free", but will make you jump through some annoying hoops in order to find the 100% free photos. After test driving a few of 'em, I found Dreamstime to be the most hassle-free. You will need to register as a member at all of these sites, but it's worth it! You'll have access to tons of unique photos that you can add to your BizBlog at a moment's notice, such as the one below.
A few other well-known free stock photo sites include stock.xchg, photogen, and Free Stock Photos. And, hey, if you can swing it, you might as well splurge on a couple paid images. Check out iStockPhoto. They're inexpensive and have a big selection to choose from.
For small business owners, blogs are all about communication and control. The blog format offers a more personalized communication channel to people in your community. Connecting with people on a human level makes your business a community member, not just another business. And unlike traditional websites that act as a brochure, blogs give you a voice and allow you to incrementally add information as your business grows. You can do it all yourself because blogs are easy to use.
Here are ten reasons why you should blog for your local small business:
1. Blogging is easy. You don't have to be a web designer, or rely on someone else to build and maintain your web presence. You can manage a blog entirely yourself.
2. Blogs strengthen your web presence, even if you already have a website. Nowadays people use the internet to research products and services before they buy. Blogs extend your visibility online and increase the likelihood that your business will appear in more places.
3. Blogging is a great way to connect with your local community. Most local small business are relationship based. Use a blog to communicate with regulars and gain new ones.
4. Blogs are an effective way of establishing yourself as an expert. People seek tips and advice from professionals all the time. Earn customers' trust even before they walk in the door.
5. Blogs can be updated at a moment's notice. Keeping customers up to date and interested with fresh news.
6. Blogs are all about PR and buzz. Tap into the power of word-of-mouth networking by giving people something to talk about.
7. Blogging can make your business stand out from the competition. Share your unique philosophy and explain why you're different. People want to know!
8. Blogs give your business a voice on the web. One bad online review and sales can plummet. Maintain your business's reputation by responding to customer reviews.
9. Blogs tell search engines about your business. If it's not online, Google and Yahoo! don't know about it. Show up in more search results by frequently updating your blog with information about your business.
10. Blogs are always-on and forever. They keep promoting even when your business is closed. Posts from years ago can bring in new customers today.
Want a blog for your business? Test drive a BizBlog - the only blogging platform designed to meet the needs of local small business owners who want to connect with their community and promote their business on the web.
As you start adding blog posts, you'll notice that older items will begin falling off of your front page, and into your BizBlog archive. To reference previous posts â€“ or even current posts â€“ directly, you'll want to use the post's permalink.
A permalink is a permanent link to a specific web page or blog post. They allow other websites to link directly to a post, or for you to deep link back to your archived posts. Permalinks are important, because they allow you, and your visitors, to have a single entry point back to a single post.
Deep linking is a fancy phrase meaning: linking to web pages â€œdeep insideâ€ your website, or in this case, blog posts inside your BizBlog. They allow you to reference previous posts, which may no longer be displayed on your front page. Bloggers often link to their archived posts hoping to increase page views per visitor.
Links are important to Search Engines
Search engine crawlers analyze a website's link structure to determine its relevancy to the rest of the web. They index not only a site's keywords, but also the links found on each page. Larger search engines will associate the content found in those links with the content from the original linking page. This builds a relationship between a site's content and what the site is linking to, helping search engines determine the focus of a website. Linking to your previous posts helps reinforce your BizBlog's focus.
Knowing that search engines determine a lot about a site from its link structure, it is important to grow your inbound and outbound links.
Linking is a Good Thingâ„¢.
Links are important for your BizBlog. They enable you to directly cite other websites, allow anyone to reference your blog posts through permalinks, and provide search engines with contextual information about your BizBlog.
"One of the seriously positive benefits of blogging is the credibility you can build in your chosen field. If you blog well and blog often and the topics you write about inform people, you will quickly become associated with those topics as someone who knows something of value. This is called credibility."
But is it really that easy? Well, yeah, it is.
If you faithfully post interesting blog content about your field and link to other credible sites, search engines like Google will crawl your blog more frequently. This leads to more traffic, more readership and this, in turn, builds your credibility. Your readers will recommend your blog to friends, resulting in even more traffic, and eventually, new clients!
Another bonus? The more content you post in your blog, the greater control you have over your online identity. Try this easy experiment and you'll see exactly what I mean.
- Do a quick Google search for your own name. Take note of the search results.
- Over the next week, try posting 3 new blog entries.
- At the end of the week, do another Google search for your own name. See anything new?
If all worked properly (and depending on how common your name is), you should see your blog entries ranked higher in Google's search results for your name. Potential clients can (and will) Google your name. These search results may not be related to you, but does your client know that? Manage your online presence and improve your credibility by consistently producing new, quality content you'd be proud to show your clients and colleagues.
Think about it: when you open a magazine or newspaper, where do your eyes go first? The second paragraph of a random article? Nope. You notice the pictures and headlines. Similarly, new readers will scan your blog for interesting titles and are likely to ignore the rest of your content. Sad, but true.
Is this bad news? It can be, if you don't title your entries at all. If you do spend the minute or two it takes to craft a decent blog title, then you probably don't have to worry about readers scanning over your writing.
Some strategies to effectively title your blog entries include:
*No-Nonsense Titles. Penelope Trunk, author of The Brazen Careerist, writes a text-heavy blog about career and work-related issues. At first glance, her blog could be written off as a wall of words, but her concise, no-nonsense titles allow readers to effortlessly scan to interesting material (which isn't hard- it's a great blog!).
*Creative and Funny Titles. Dooce writer Heather Armstrong uses humor to catch the eye of her readers. Titles like "Four more paws on the hardwood" and "Despite taking my meds regularly" make readers chuckle and read her entries out of curiosity.
While boring blog titles won't completely ruin your blog, crafting your titles strategically will guide your readers to what they would consider your best content. What do you get out of it? Loyal readership, and eventually, more business.