Aside from really great content, there are a few things you want to make sure you incorporate into your small business blog.
If you’ve been blogging for awhile, this list may have just a couple that you haven’t thought about. But if you’re new to blogging, check this out and let me know if you have any questions!
#1: Share Buttons
I wouldn’t have listed this first it if I didn’t think people needed to know. In my blogging travels, especially among local business blogs, there are no share buttons to speak of. Just content and a title. That’s nice, but the content is only half of the blog’s power. The other half is its reach.
There are readers who come across your posts, and may want to share them with Facebook followers and post them on Twitter, or even email themselves a copy. Why not enable them to do so?
What I use here: 1-click Retweet/Share/Like by LinksAlpha. This is best on *brand new* blogs because if you install it on a blog with an existing sharing function, it will erase any of your previous share data (otherwise known as social proof – the little numbers next to the share buttons).
If you blog about products, please remember to do this! If someone comes across a dress on your blog that they like, or a new beauty product, or a cool gadget, I can almost guarantee you that if they are on Facebook, they will hit that Like button.
Blogging platforms come with RSS feeds, and you may not understand them, but the most important thing to know is how to get to yours. Whether or not you personally subscribe to RSS feeds is irrelevant. An RSS feed is used by some search engines to access and index your content. Some readers will put your RSS feed into what is known as an RSS feed reader, so they can read all of their favorite blogs in one place.
It’s also a “portable” platform for your content – think of it as a laptop or mobile device, and your blog is the desktop. You can take your RSS feed and syndicate it on other blogs, or you can submit it to RSS directories. It’s your blog’s content in a travel mug.
Even if you plan to do nothing with it, at the very least, display an RSS Feed link somewhere on your blog, so that people can access your RSS feed. I strongly suggest reformatting your RSS feed with FeedBurner. Not only is it a great backlink, but it will make your feed look normal (like this), as opposed to a bunch of black text on a white screen with no line breaks (yuck).
Along with this, though, you need to add an RSS Footer – a simple message that gets appended to every one of your posts that lets people know where it came from. It is made easy with a plugin for WordPress called RSS Footer.
#3: Contact Form
You want to allow people to contact you – firstly because they might want to do business with you! Secondly, people may have questions related to your content or want to express a simple thanks. Allow them to do this.
Contact forms are nice, but especially with blogging, spam tends to find its way to contact forms. You don’t have to worry about getting spam directly to your email address because it will be protected behind the form. However, if you prefer not to use a contact form, just put up a contact page that has your email address. Note that spam crawlers CAN extract your email address from text on a page, so this isn’t a way to save yourself from spam, trust me.
Contact Form 7 is a reliable, easy WordPress plugin for creating multiple contact forms. You will be able to customize the email message that gets sent to yourself and to them as a confirmation, and you can use all sorts of form features such as anti-spam, radio buttons, drop-down boxes, and file upload options.
There are two necessary subscription components. The first is the ability to subscribe to updates from your blog via email. This is very easily done using a simple email subscription form from FeedBurner. However, you can always jazz it up if you would like.
The second component is to subscribe to follow-up comments. If someone leaves a comment, offer the option to have future comments sent to them. The recipient will always be able to unsubscribe if they like. A simple, no-fuss WordPress plugin for this is Subscribe to Comments.
Although this is rare, I have come across blogs that have no commenting feature – or the ability to comment is turned off. That is fine for some blogs, but not for you if you are using your blog as a marketing tool.
Most blogs have commenting turned on by default (Tumblr is an exception).
The standard commenting system will do, but you should also give consideration to some outside commenting systems that are designed to reduce spam and spark more conversation. Disqus is a very popular one, and LiveFyre is another that is growing in popularity. IntenseDebate is yet another. Check them all out and weigh their features against each other to see which will work best for you.
I like Disqus for this blog because it’s very easy to incorporate the retweets each post gets into the comment stream. I like to see who is retweeting the posts, and believe it or not, it’s not always that easy to tell on Twitter or other Twitter applications.
#6: Analytics System
You can’t say that blogging isn’t working unless you are tracking results. Now, please don’t say that you’re planning to track results like this: “Well, if I get more sales, I’ll know it’s working.” That will only work if your buy buttons are right there in the posts.
For the rest of you, you’ll need to take some really important measurements. The easiest and best tool is Google Analytics and the best WordPress plugin for this is Ultimate Google Analytics.
Of course, your individual reasons for blogging are going to be different, so your outcomes are going to be different. But there are general things you ought to track:
Referral Sources: What is sending you traffic? It is search engines, other websites, or is your traffic only “direct” (usually means someone put your link into their web browser and went straight to it). Google Analytics will also throw any undetectable sources into the “direct” bucket.
Visitors: You can get very detailed here, and for local businesses, this will be particularly good information to have. You can also differentiate between new and returning visitors, how long they stayed on your site, and more.
Keywords: If you get traffic from search engines, it’s important to know which keywords are sending traffic. Are these the ones that you want? Why do you think you’re getting traffic for these keywords? That all-important question will usually turn the light bulb on, and you’ll begin to see what you can do to start getting traffic for the keywords that you want.
Goals: Track goals using analytics. If a goal is to get people to contact you, set up the contact thank you page as a goal (if you have a thank you page). If your goal is to get people to comment, set up the comment thank you page as a goal. If your goal is to get people to go to another website (such as your main site), set that URL as a goal.
Navigation Patterns: How are people navigating your site? You can track this with analytics. You can even pull up your website in Google Analytics and see a visual map of where people click the most. Awesome. There is nothing better than planning based on real analysis rather than assumptions and guesses.
As we discussed earlier, you might want to have a comment thank you page set up – if you’re using the native WordPress system, you can do this easily with a plugin. Otherwise, enable a Thank you email response that gets sent out after someone comments. I like the Thank Me Later WordPress plugin for this.
In the response, simply thank them for commenting, invite them to subscribe, or let them know about your products and services (briefly, briefly, briefly). If you have an event coming up, why not let them know about it?
Caution: Do not auto-subscribe someone to your newsletter or to blog updates when they comment. If you would like to give them the opportunity to subscribe all at once, use checkboxes below or above the comment form, so they are aware of it. You can even auto-check the checkbox, but never never never subscribe someone to something without their express permission.
#8: Backup System
I have to write this one down where I can access it because it’s always the furthest thing from my mind. Make sure you install a Backup system! There are several that will do the job, both paid and free. An easy free one for WordPress is a plugin called WP-DB-Backup. This will only back up your content; it will not back up your design/layout/theme, so be sure to keep a copy of that somewhere accessible.
Great Premium Choice: Backup Buddy. I adore this plugin. It will backup everything – including your theme AND the WordPress installation itself. Presto. All you would need is FTP information, and Backup Buddy will install WordPress, install your theme, and install your blog – from the plugins to the content – in two minutes. Seriously. I have used this and know that it works brilliantly.
Tips: Don’t back it up to your server. If your server crashes, there goes your backup. And I have personally had to deal with the mess of someone’s server crashing (from hacking) and had to put their blog back together from scratch. Not fun. Instead, send it to an email address that’s not on your server, or back it up to a flash drive.
If you have any questions regarding how to start a blog in 2018 using all these tools, I’ll be happy to answer them.