Many web hosting companies are now offering a blolg as part of the package. In my opinion, most are - unfortunately - not really suitable platforms for a professional business blog. They provide the basic functions of an online diary or journal but a blog for your business needs to be more than that.
Here are some of the features and functions that a blog for your business must have:
- RSS Feed. The most desirable readers (the ones you want in your sphere of influence) don't read your blog by bringing it up in their browser. Instead they subscribe to your blog's RSS feed and read it in their Feed reader. If you don't have an RSS feed then your blog won't be read. I describe RSS feeds and their significance in a little more detail here.
- Your RSS Feed should be easy to subscribe to.The Mac Browser (Safari) and Internet Explorer 7 have their own buttons that are live when the browser detects that a blog has an RSS feed and allow me to subscribe to your feed wiith a single click. Other people are not so lucky. Google Reader is probably the most popular RSS feed reader today. You should strive to make it as easy as possible for users of Google Reader - and other online feed readers - to subscribe. That's why you see the chicklets in the sidebar of this blog under the heading Subscribe. A Google Reader user can simply click on the 'Google' chicklet to subscribe.
- Connection to Feedburner. Feedburner is the premier aggregator of RSS feeds. They also do a lot more. They provide great stats about your feed subscribers. They can integrate podcasts into your RSS feed and make it easy to publish on iTunes. Any blog that has an RSS feed can be connected to Feedburner, but some blogging platforms make it easier than others.
- Email Subscriptions. Your readers should be able to subscribe to your blog via email. I predict that newsletters will someday go the way of the Dodo bird thanks to this function. (Bringing you this capability is one of the great things Feedburner does for you).
- Technorati Tags. The combination of frequent postings and Technorati Tags is what enables your block to quickly climb to the top of the Google rankings for any given search term. Your blog should have a field on its 'Compose Post' page that allows you to easily enter Technorati Tags.
- Categories.You should be able to group your posts into categories - and you should publish the list of categories in your blog's sidebar. Readers can click on a category name in your sidebar and see everything you have written on that topic. In time, your blog will become a reference site. I often send people to the Blogging 101 category of my blog to give them a place to start learning about blogs.
- A Link to Your Website. Not only do you want interested readers to be able to easily find your website, consider this: Every time you create a new blog post it looks like a new web page to Google. If every one of those pages has a link to your website...
- Recent Posts. If your sidebar contains a list of recent posts, a new visitor can quickly get a feel for what your blog is about. (Yes, I know. I have no 'Recent Posts' section in my sidebar. That and other things going to change soon.)
- Trackbacks. The most important factor in the success of your blog is for you to engage in conversation with the blogosphere. Find other bloggers speaking to the same audience as you. Read their blogs regularly. Leave insightful comments. Write articles on your blog about what you've read and include trackbacks and hyperlinks in those posts. If you go to your own blog and write about this post here on my blog, and you trackback to this post, I receive notification that you have written about it. That notification includes the URL of your blog. When I approve the trackback, an excerpt of your post appears in the 'comments and trackbacks' section of my blog's post. You must be able to do trackbacks.
- Accept Comments. Don't just accept feedback, welcome it. (That's why you won't see CAPTCHA or other forms of authentication on blogs I configure.) Not only that, the comment form should have fields for the commenters name, email address, and website/blog URL.
- Comment and Trackback Moderation. You do however, want to make sure that inappropriate comments never see the light of day. You should be able to configure your blog so it holds all comments for your review and approval prior to publication. The same is true for trackbacks.
- Google Pinging. The other day at one of our Real Estate Blogging Seminars, Jay Thompson was live-blogging during the event. Before the seminar was over his blog post was on Google. You don't want to wait the 4-6 weeks for Google's spider to get around to reading your blog. You want your blog to automatically and immediately notify (we call it a ping) Google each time you publish a new blog post. The same is true for Technorati, Feedburner, blo.gs, and weblogs.com .
- Social Bookmarking. The social bookmarking sites like Digg and Del.icio.us can be powerful tools for spreading your message virally. For that to happen, you must have three things: (1) You must write good content that other people want to read. (2) Create engaging titles for your content, and (3) Make it as easy as possible for people to bookmark you. -- The first two are up to you. Your blog should take care of the third one for you.
You are going to be spending a lot of time and energy on your business blog. In return, it needs to do the best possible job for you. In order to do that I believe these features and functions must be present.